A communication to people of faith
It is always a pastoral and prophetic duty of churches to bear witness with regard to policies of government that bear negatively on society in general and the poor in particular.
The matter of e-tolls in Gauteng is one such matter.
Several church bodies including: the South African Council of churches, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference Justice and Peace Department, The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, some African Independent churches and the South African Christian Leaders Initiative have repeatedly counselled government against the implementation of the Gauteng e-toll system on the grounds that:
There is deep and widespread concern about the potential impact of e-tolling upon the poor, directly and indirectly, and many bodies in civil society remain unconvinced about reassurances received in this regard. This includes many of the people within our churches.
The public remains broadly unconvinced about the integrity of the processes of planning, consultation, contracting, and management which have been followed around the GFIP – despite all the arguments and assurances which have been given.
There is a widespread perception that the handling of this issue by government and by SANRAL has been insensitive and heavy-handed, far from the style of governance for which South Africans fought for so long. Harsh language, disrespect for public opinion, threats of kitskonstabels on the highways, and tendentious argument have lost this administration much respect.
As church leaders we are concerned that forcing the e-tolling system upon Gauteng could lead to open conflict between motorists, toll operators and agents of law and order, all of which would be beamed across the world by the media. We cannot fail to warn about possible conflict and even violence which, given the prevalence of antagonistic ways of resolving our differences, could easily ensue.
Church leaders have had several meetings with government leaders to raise these concerns, and are surprised that while continuing discussions with church leaders on the one hand, they proceeded to enact the enabling legislation on e-tolling.
This we view as bad faith engagement with affected communities.
In the view of the churches, the outcome of the OUTA court case yesterday, 9th October, in which the case was dismissed due to its falling outside of the 180 day period required for such appeals, is merely a matter of legal technicalities.
It does not address the crucial matter of the moral injustice of the e-tolls. As churches, we remain of the view that:
E-tolls are an injustice to the people of Gauteng and (due to its knock-on effects on the cost of living) to the rest of the country. The fact that they intend to extend this system to other parts of the country makes this compelling.
Credible alternatives exist that would allow for the raising of money to pay for these roads, without incurring the large costs of collection entailed by e-tolling. Despite this, without setting forth any convincing reasons, government has preferred to ignore alternatives and forge ahead with e-tolling. This continues to provoke deep suspicion about the real reasons for the insistence on e-tolls.
While government reserves the right to ignore popular protests and govern in the way it sees fit, it is up to the people of South Africa to hold them accountable for such decisions in ways they see fit – including the freedom to decide whether or not to participate in this scheme – and via the ballot box. Thankfully, “the people shall govern” remains a core value of our democracy.
Forging ahead with this method of funding the roads, regardless of the outcry that this has occasioned, is likely to generate a wide range of responses from the people of our country.
As always, Christians should make their decisions after careful thought and prayer, and on moral grounds like the pursuit of justice and the common good - rather than deciding on the basis of what suits our pockets. We will be told that Christians should obey their government and pay taxes, but that presumes that our government is governing righteously. In this case that is exactly the problem we face.
We continue to encourage all our people to focus on peaceful ways of demonstrating their resistance and refusal to participate in such schemes – rather than allowing our frustrations and concerns to result in any violence or destruction of public property.
Even at this late stage we, as leaders from a wide variety of churches, urge the Government to re-think their approach and to seriously explore the various alternatives that exist to fund the debt that was incurred in the building of these roads.
E-tolling is clearly not the solution.
On behalf of a grouping of concerned church leaders