The lights from passing traffic stream pass a Sanral toll gantry on the N1 highway in this long exposure photograph. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) believes it is not yet time to celebrate the SA National Roads Agency’s decision to suspend e-toll debt collection in Gauteng.

The organisation, however, said Sanral’s decision was “a strong signal that the end is near for the irrational Gauteng e-tolls”.

“We remain cautiously optimistic, in that they have only suspended the process of challenging people legally when it comes to outstanding debt,” said Outa chief executive officer Wayne Duvenage.

He said they were waiting for more clarity on how the matter would be resolved.

“We’d like to know what this means for the future of e-tolls. Outa will challenge this matter until the decision to declare the Gauteng freeways tolled roads is rescinded, and until Sanral formally withdraws the court case and all summonses against e-toll defaulters.”

Sanral’s board of directors passed an urgent resolution to suspend the pursuit of e-toll debt on Wednesday.

“It resolved that, given the initiative led by President Cyril Ramaphosa to address the e-tolls payment impasse, Sanral will, with immediate effect, suspend the process of pursuing e-toll debt. This includes historic debt and summonses applied for from 2015,” said Sanral. This decision will be constantly monitored by the board and reviewed according to prevailing circumstances.”

Electronic Toll Collection (ETC), which collects e-tolls on behalf of Sanral, had approached the courts regarding roughly 1400 default judgments against those who hadn’t paid their e-toll bills. The ETC said it had issued between 2000 and 4000 summonses to people who had ignored notices to pay their debts since May.

It said default judgments led to immediate blacklisting.

Outa and the DA cautioned that the suspension of debt collecting could amount to electioneering.

“We must remain vigilant and treat this suspension as a temporary situation, as the e-toll debt collection could possibly be relaunched again in future, such as after the elections,” said Duvenage.

ANC Gauteng spokesperson Motalatale Modiba said in November the party had delivered a memorandum calling for unconditional scrapping of e-tolls. “Given the deafening voice of the residents of Gauteng who rejected the e-tolls in the current form, this was an inevitable course of action,” he said.

DA Gauteng premier candidate Solly Msimanga said Sanral’s move was proof that “the e-toll system is not working and has never worked”.

“It is clear that Sanral’s threats of issuing summonses for those who owe e-tolls and blacklisting residents who owed e-tolls would not hold water in a court of law,” Msimanga said.

“The fact that some 40 days before the elections, the ANC makes this announcement is blatant electioneering. E-tolls are an unfair tax burden that was placed on the residents of Gauteng without proper consultation.”

Civil rights organisation AfriForum’s chief executive, Kallie Kriel, said the decision showed civil society could use its power effectively to battle exploitation.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla echoed Duvenage’s sentiments. “Cosatu is not celebrating... because this does not meet our demand for total eradication of the e-tolls. The fight for efficient, reliable, affordable and safe public transport for all the people goes on.

“We continue to urge motorists not to register with Sanral or buy e-tags... We are certain that people’s power will finally convince the government to abandon a policy that is extremely unpopular, unfair and unworkable,” Pamla said.