AN URGENT interdict to prevent the launch of e-tolling on Gauteng's freeways was granted by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Saturday, two days after the scheduled launch of the system was postponed for a month.
The interdict application was made by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) to allow time for a full court review of the controversial e-tolling system to decide whether it should be scrapped.
"I make the following order ... the first respondent (the South African National Roads Agency, or Sanral) is interdicted and restrained from levying and collecting tolls," said Judge Bill Prinsloo.
Outa, representing groups such as the Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, wants tolling to be scrapped and for the nearly R20bn Sanral borrowed to be repaid by a rise in the fuel levy.
In his ruling, Judge Prinsloo agreed with the applicants on many grounds and said Outa had a prima facie right to argue for a review of the e-tolling project.
Counsel for Sanral and the Treasury had argued against the application, saying that if Sanral defaulted on one month of its payment, the government would have to pay its entire debt.
Alistair Franklin, counsel for Outa, had argued that the system was unreasonable as it had disproportionate costs attached to it. "Collecting costs are exceeding the cost of improvement (of the roads)," he told the court.
Judge Prinsloo said he was making the ruling under "pressing circumstances", taking into consideration thousands of pages of evidence and hours of submissions. He said 19 legal counsel had appeared before him for this case, of whom 10 were senior counsel.
As part of his judgment, he read out five affidavits submitted by Outa on behalf of South African citizens who described their hardships and how the e-toll project would affect them.
He said tens of thousands of people who had no alternatives such as public transport or secondary roads were likely to be negatively affected by the e-toll project, adding: "People are held captive by the toll roads."
The judge said he was aware that Sanral would suffer financially if the project was halted. "I am alive to the fact that Sanral may suffer financial losses. This could result in its business rating being downgraded," Judge Prinsloo said.
But, he added, tens of thousands of people would also suffer financial hardship if interim relief was not granted.
Judge Prinsloo emphasised that Saturday's ruling had nothing to do with the postponement of e-tolling by the Department of Transport and Sanral.
That announcement was made on Thursday just hours after the African National Congress (ANC) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said they would ask the government for a month-long delay.
In a statement, the department said e-tolling would be postponed until May 30 to "finalise regulations following input on regulatory and administrative issues from the public and interested stakeholders".
Welcoming the decision, the ANC said it showed leadership and responsiveness by the government.
"It is encouraging to us that we live in a democracy where these issues can be thoroughly debated and discussed," added Patrick Craven, spokesman for Cosatu.
E-tolling was to have been implemented on 185km of freeway in Gauteng at midnight on Monday.