Transport minister Blade Nzimande says that the controversial e-toll system is here to stay, despite protest from opposing political parties.
The minister was responding to questions posed to him in parliament this week, regarding the confusing and contrasting stances on e-tolls from government and the ruling ANC.
At the end of July 2018, the ANC confirmed that it was actively taking steps to review the controversial e-toll system.
Newly elected deputy chairperson of the ANC in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, said that following recent conference talks the Gauteng ANC planned to publish a formal stance on the termination of e-tolls sometime in August 2018.
This stance was repeated in recent weeks, when the ANC took to the streets in protest against the system, calling on its own elected government to do away with it.
However, the firm position from National Treasury and the Department of Transport is that no matter what people want, the system will remain.
During his maiden mid-term budget speech, finance minister Tito Mboweni called on Gauteng motorists to pay their outstanding bills, ‘because nothing comes for mahala (free)’.
He said that the e-toll project’s debt had ballooned to over R40 billion, and that money had to be paid. While the flaws of e-tolls are widely known by now, and alternatives were being looked at, the user-pays principle that e-tolling represents is the standing policy.
Besides the e-toll debt, Sanral also needed money to keep building and maintaining roads in the province, which it currently cannot do.
“If we want a road transport infrastructure that works, we need to pay our tolls… Government remains committed,” Mboweni said.
This was again repeated by Nzimande in parliament on Wednesday, where he said that despite the flaws of the system, now identified in hindsight, the debt is there, and it needs to be paid.
“Maybe this thing should have been done differently, but we are where we are now and we have got debt. This thing was introduced in broad daylight…and we have to collect tolls to maintain and run these beautiful roads,” he said.
Nzimande said that government was looking at alternatives to collect money for South Africa’s roads, but the message from government is clear, however – e-tolling isn’t going anywhere.
The public have already made their choice
According to Outa chair Wayne Duvenage, who has been leading the fight against e-tolling since its inception, the motorists have their own view.
He said that no matter what government thinks or says about e-tolling, the public has already made it clear that it simply will not pay for e-tolls.
“It matters not what Nzimande or the government says about e-tolls – the people have made the decision for him. The vast majority of the public have halted it in its tracks. Their music may be playing, but there’s no one on the dance floor. The party is over Sanral,” he said.
He argued that with a 25% compliance rate – mostly made up of large companies – the system is untenable and has failed, and refusal to shut it down will only exacerbate Sanral’s debt issues.
Duvenage and Outa are pushing ahead with a test case on e-tolls, where the intention is to get some finality on the legality and constitutionality of the system, which has not yet been determined by a South African court.
However, the timeline for this test case is unclear.
In the meantime, roads agency Sanral is ramping up its efforts to collect the R13 billion-plus it is owed in unpaid e-toll bills.
On top of thousands of summonses being sent out to disobedient motorists, the group is also working with government to look at ways to force motorists to pay – with some alarming suggestions.
These include blocking car sales or licence renewals until the debt is paid up, to more extreme suggestions like using SARS as a type of debt collector.