PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma on Friday quashed any hopes that the planned Gauteng e-tolling system would be dropped by government.
"The Gauteng economy cannot afford any impediment to the traffic flow, since such an impediment would stifle economic growth that leads to job creation," Mr Zuma told a business briefing in Port Elizabeth hosted by The New Age newspaper and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
Because of increased traffic flow, he said, the roads were unable to cope and this had affected road users and economic development.
Mr Zuma said the tolling of Gauteng's roads was an issue that had been consulted on and accepted by the Cabinet.
"The rationale behind the freeways improvement project is that Gauteng, which generates nearly 38% of the total value of South Africa's economic activities, has developed beyond its infrastructural capabilities," he said.
"The open tolling system will assist the government to obtain revenue that will be utilised to improve the road infrastructure, service debt already incurred for the upgraded freeway network in Gauteng and ensure a well-maintained and upgraded road network into the future," Mr Zuma added.
The president said it was understood that for people already affected by poverty and unemployment, tolls were an additional financial burden, but the infrastructure development would also create jobs that would help ease the burden.
He reiterated the government's decision - as announced by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in his budget speech - to reduce the toll tariffs and cap the fees for motorcycles and light vehicles at R550 a month.
"We plead for your understanding because at the end of the day, we have to develop and strengthen the road infrastructure of Gauteng," he said. "If we don't increase the infrastructure development of the roads in Johannesburg, then in Johannesburg the economic activities will be suffocated."
Mr Zuma said the recent nationwide protest against e-tolling did not mean the government was at odds with the convener of the march, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
"We are not on a collision course," he said. "This is a democratic country. They have a right to raise their concerns ... a right to protest."
However, Mr Zuma inferred that unemployed workers had overlooked the benefits of job creation that would come from building the economy. "You can't stop the process when you are calling for jobs. That's the kind of contradiction you have got to deal with," he said.
He did not eliminate the possibility of tolls being rolled out in other metropolitan cities. "If other cities develop (to the extent of Johannesburg) ... there is no law that it will not happen."
Referring to blacked-out documents on the freeway improvement project that were delivered to Cosatu by the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral), Mr Zuma said he was also confused.
"I don't know what the logic is," he said. "I didn't understand it either. If you have committed yourself to give information, to be transparent, you must adhere to that."
He said he had questioned Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele about the incident, but he too could not explain Sanral's rationale.
"It doesn't make sense," said Mr Zuma.
THE AURORA AFFAIR
Mr Zuma on Friday also distanced himself from his nephew Khulubuse Zuma's involvement in the embattled Aurora's mining affairs.
"I don't know whether I should just be getting into the business of a person simply because he's a nephew. I don't discuss business easily with my nephew," the president said.
Khulubuse Zuma and former president Nelson Mandela's grandson Zondwa Mandela - who are directors of Aurora Empowerment Systems - face the wrath of unions that argue Aurora's workers are owed R4,3m.
Cosatu earlier this week lashed out at Aurora's bosses and told the workers it would stand by them.
"The big names are stripping our people as if they do not have consciences ... these fat cats are dying from eating too much while poor families are dying of hunger and poverty," the Sowetan reported Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi as saying this week.
Mr Zuma said disputes involving workers not being paid should be investigated and there should be consequences.
"What, of course, cannot be accepted is if workers are working and not being paid," he said. "That's an issue that we look at, not only because he is a nephew of Zuma, but (for) anyone."
Asked if, as a father figure, he should not advise his nephew, Mr Zuma said: "I'm not a businessman, I don't know what happens in business. How can I tell a person because he is my relative, 'Please pay your workers or don't pay your workers'?"
Aurora faces an insolvency hearing in connection with its management of the liquidated Pamodzi mines in Gauteng and the North West. More than 5300 jobs are said to have been lost.
ANC YOUTH LEAGUE
Mr Zuma also said on Friday that the African National Congress Youth League must accept that it needs to appoint a new president and move on.
"Once the process of disciplinary procedures has been concluded, there will not be anything else to do thereafter - the youth league will have to move forward," he said.
Youth league leader Julius Malema was expelled by the ANC's national disciplinary committee for sowing division in the party and bringing it into disrepute.
The youth league "will have to have a new president that will be able to move the organisation forward. I don't think it's a crisis," Mr Zuma said.
He said the ANC had no choice but to apply the constitution of the party, and "the constitution is very clear".
He acknowledged that Mr Malema's appeal process was still under way. "(But) I think at the end of the day that has drawn to a conclusion," he said.
The president also dismissed suggestions that the youth league had lost confidence in the ruling party.