THE Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has vowed to continue fighting to have the electronic tolling to pay for the R25bn Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project scrapped, despite President Jacob Zuma having signed an act legalising collection of the tolls.
The Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Act will allow Transport Minister Dipuo Peters to publish regulations, after public consultations, for the use and operations of vehicles on toll roads.
It would exclude the levying of the toll from the National Credit Act, and provide for the penalisation of those in contravention of regulations regarding the use of the toll roads.
News of Mr Zuma’s signing of the bill into law came on the same day as closing arguments were heard at the Supreme Court of Appeals by opponents of urban tolling — through the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance — and the government, on whether the tolling of urban roads should be scrapped. The appeal court has reserved its judgment.
On Thursday, several church group, including the Southern African Council of Churches and the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, expressed surprise at the move by Mr Zuma, saying: "We had no indication that this was imminent, but this does not change our confidence that government will continue to engage in the effort to resolve matters — rather than proceeding with the implementation of a system that has been so widely rejected by our people."
Opposition to e-tolling has drawn unlikely allies with Cosatu, a key ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), actively encouraging residents not to buy the e-tags or register for e-tolling.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has also said it would work to have e-tolling scrapped, should the party win the Gauteng province in the next general elections. However, Cosatu and the DA differ on their political and ideological reasoning.
Cosatu argues that e-tolling is in effect privatisation of the road network, which should be seen as a public utility and right of way.
The DA’s stand is that e-tolling is part of the ANC’s overall policy of developing a closed loop of spending between government departments and then making the user pay for infrastructure.
Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said on Thursday: "If civil disobedience means making the implementation (of e-tolling) as difficult as possible, then yes, we plead guilty to encouraging civil disobedience."
DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane said, should he be elected, he would do everything in his power to scrap e-tolling. However, as e-tolling affects only roads that fall within national government competency, a premier would be hard-pressed to stop it.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said the e-tolls saga had come to represent the overall increase in cost of living for the ordinary person. He said there will be three likely effects out of the e-tolling issue.
The first is that some ANC supporters will register their discomfort at the next general elections by staying away from the polls, the second, is the impact on small and medium businesses which are already facing rising petrol and electricity prices.
The third is that any wholesale disobedience would add strain on the already stretched criminal justice system, Mr Fikeni said.
© BDlive 2013