Our genial, smiling President Cyril Ramaphosa cannot be likened to the wicked King John from 11th century Britain, nor his henchmen, the evil sheriff of Nottingham, from whose people Robin Hood allegedly stole from the rich to give to the poor.
He is, after all, a family man. Just as we forget that he cares, Ramaphosa plays the grim undertaker addressing the nation now and then on the lockdown levels receding.
Perversely, if the fable that spawned many a movie is true, then the opposite of Robin Hood’s ideology rings true in modern-day South Africa, especially under Ramaphosa’s watch.
During his silent diplomacy leadership under the brazenly corrupt predecessor Jacob Zuma, much has happened that may be described as stealing from the poor while making government fat cats or their wealthy friends rich.
Ramaphosa did nothing. E-tolls also form part of the quick-get-rich off the back of the poor scheme. In fact, in 2015, he announced a hike in e-toll levies. Admittedly, the gallery of rogues is far more comprehensive than e-tolls or the Gupta brothers.
Can you call yourself pro-poor, having helped the Guptas pilfer an estimated R50 billion from our beloved country? Certainly, Ramaphosa and the ANC must dispel the notion that they pay lip service to the poor.
They take from the poor and make the rich richer, thus reducing the economy to ruins, while the poor have been taken for a ride. The Zondo commission has revealed that billions are sitting in Dubai and elsewhere, while the likes of Duduzane Zuma and his ailing dad plead amnesia to state-capture. It is a figment of someone’s imagination; they would have you believe.
Indeed, they take us, citizens, for idiots. Through it all, Ramaphosa, too, has paid lip service to corruption – and the poor. Until the big fish responsible for enabling corruption in the nine years of free-for-all connected to the former president are behind bars, we cannot take anything from Ramaphosa at face value.
Similarly, the e-tolls saga is one riddled in controversy – and lies. Someone has benefited handsomely from the multibillion-rand money for mahala gantries. Yet Ramaphosa allows officials under his watch to escape with impunity over its poor treatment of South African citizens.
Keeping promises is not the greatest strength of Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula. He insisted in March that the e-toll saga would be finalised. On May 6, Mbalula told Parliament a decision would be given in two weeks. Five months later, on Thursday, he changed tune. E-tolls are here to stay.
Promises of a better life for all before the country’s first democratic election in 1994 are still empty words on a piece of discarded Reconstruction and Development Programme.
Last month Mbalula’s deputy, new to the hot-seat deputy Sindisiwe Chikunga, insisted that citizens will have to pay e-tolls whether they like it or not. If that is not an F… the poor attitude from a government official, what next should we be surprised to hear that the government has proposed that the Guptas be recognised for their philanthropy building temples in India with money they stole from the poor in South Africa? Nothing surprises anymore. The only certainty when it comes to politicians is nothing coming from their mouths is certain or fills one with hope.
Enter Gauteng MEC Jacob Mamabolo, a junior official in the bigger scheme, who insists that his department remains “firm” in its call for the scrapping of e-tolls. Brave talk.
Mr Flip-Flopper Mbalula, Chikunga, who could pass for the Sheriff of Nottingham with her bullying attitude, and the ineffective Mamabolo have spoken with forked tongues when it comes to e-tolls.
It is, after all, elections next month. The uncertainty in the ANC merely gives ammunition to its rivals. None more so that Black Like Me hair product founder Herman Mashaba, whose ActionSA party launched in August 2020, will be eyeing a return to the mayoral role he held from 2016 to 2019.
The ANC is short on memory. It was the e-tolls saga in the run-up then that cost them. This uncertainty over e-tolls, which has proven to be a failed taxation experiment, remains a noose around its neck.
Mbalula tightened it further when he told The Citizen newspaper on August 8 that national roads must be maintained “… which meant the e-toll system cannot be scrapped”.
Robin Hood is described as a philanthropist who robbed the rich to give to the poor. But the ANC is bent on taking from the poor and making the fat cats rich. Mbalula wants to ensure that a country where the majority rely on taxis to get to and from work on highways would have to fork out more for their travels because of toll fees which have no place in our country.
One understands toll fees being imposed in the United Kingdom, Europe, or America because they have alternative – and efficient – transport systems. A government in touch with its people cannot make it restrictive on them going to work and back in taxis that will pass the e-toll levies on millions of commuters.
As elections draw nearer, for those with amnesia in the ruling party, and that is possible given that avarice has replaced once heartful duty of care to the poor, citizens must ask whether they can trust a party that has failed for the best part of the last decade to deal with an e-tolls issue that hits hard at the pockets of millions of South Africans.
During the Robin Hood fables, taxation on the poor intensified. Under the ruling ANC party’s watch and adopting its user-pays principle, citizens are under pressure. The nation is paying considerably more in personal tax. Electricity costs have outstripped inflation (never mind the unreliable provision by Eskom).
Water and rates have increased. Service delivery, however, has not kept up with the higher charges.
On Friday, the Automobile Association (AA) said that it was concerned that no formal decision on the way forward regarding e-tolls had been conveyed to the public. In 2019, months before the election, the AA said the SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) had announced it would suspend targeting historical debt owed to it. Now, shortly before the November 1 elections, murmurs return.
“The Cabinet must inform the public on what the future of this system is, and it should do so sooner rather than later,” the AA said.
One wonders if the ANC is preparing to hand over Johannesburg to Mashaba and his ActionSA during the 2021 municipal elections because they have no appetite to handle the city’s problems which the Black Like Me founder seemed to tackle with zeal in his previous stint?
But it would be a disaster to imagine a scenario under Mashaba’s watch “no-go zones” or the apparent xenophobia during his stint. That fire, though, has already started.
On Twitter on July 21, Mashaba said: “With JHB CBD trending, let me remind SAns; when I started as Mayor, I was told that some buildings in the CBD are ’no-go-areas’. Places where modern-day slavery, human trafficking, prostitution, was going on. Suddenly now under ANC, inner-city revitalisation is non-existent.”
Perhaps, the ANC is fed-up because it has not been able to make Johannesburg the world-class city it dreams of becoming? Seriously, their forked tongues and dithering over the e-tolls is sure to ring harshly among voters.
Naidu is a communications professional and writes on justice and higher education.