SUCCESS THROUGH PEACEFUL CIVIL DEFIANCE: A MESSAGE OF CITIZEN STRENGTH TO AN ERRANT GOVERNMENT
Minister Godongwana’s recent announcement to fund the Gauteng freeway debt through Treasury allocations has finally heralded the good news we have been waiting to hear for over a decade.
The e-toll fight was a very necessary and successful civil disobedience campaign brought by civil society. It sends a strong message to Government that the people of our country will not be bullied into submission by policies and schemes that are not in the best interest of society at large.
OUTA’s defiance campaign was peaceful, empowering and effective, and – contrary to what some believe – never about not wanting to pay for infrastructure improvements. Also, it was never about rejecting the use of technology to implement a user pays mechanism. It was all about resisting a grossly overpriced scheme, burdensome in application and steeped in corruption. My article in the Financial Mail recently described the many problems with the e-toll decision.
We need to reflect on the enormity of what transpired during this decade-long saga to understand why this outcome is so important to ordinary citizens. The pushback came largely from middle-class South Africans, who are normally law-abiding people. These are the folks who fear conflict with the law and were extremely anxious about Sanral’s threats of being pulled off the freeways by the “e-toll freeway police”. They feared receiving summonses and default judgments, being blacklisted by credit bureaus or – even worse – acquiring criminal records for defying e-tolls.
Yet they stood strong.
In the first six months after the launch of e-tolls, 60% of the Gauteng freeway users refused to succumb to Sanral’s draconian misinformation campaign that tried to coerce and threaten the public into a 90% compliance level. The longer Sanral took to get 90% compliance, the greater the danger of the scheme’s long-term failure.
During the defiance campaign, OUTA focused on three main areas. Firstly, we had to counter Sanral’s propaganda machine with research, facts and communication. In addition, we had to empower the public with knowledge about their rights. Finally, OUTA needed to secure sufficient funds to assist thousands of motorists and businesses in a defensive court challenge against Sanral’s brazen summons campaign, which they unleashed against e-toll defaulters between 2016 and 2019.
The signs of a successful citizen challenge were there as early as mid-2014 (six months into the scheme) when defiance levels were at 60%. It increased to 80% by 2019, indicating the success of our citizen challenge. By March 2019, government realised the e-toll “war” with its citizens was over. There was no hope of enforcing the grossly inefficient and irrational scheme, and certainly no way of trying to convince the public to pay their bills. But for some reason, it took them another three years to finally pull the plug.
The e-toll victory is indeed an uplifting and important one for civil society, and certainly one that has given citizens a taste of their power and ability to stand up to Government when the latter gets it wrong. And get it wrong, they will, it seems – OUTA is still keeping an eye on the final decisions relating to the so-called GFIP debt, since we disagree with Government’s calculations about what Gauteng owes for this project. See here (on e-tolls). We will keep you posted on this.
In 2012, OUTA was born out of this fight for Gauteng freeway users’ rights, but by 2016 the organisation had evolved into a much bigger organisation, challenging government’s abuse of power and corruption on many fronts. Since then, we have taken on 230 projects, varying in size .
Our organisation has come to rely on every donation it receives from all the supporters that have come on board since the e-toll fight began. OUTA has grown from a team of three volunteers in 2012 to a team of 45 full-time salaried professionals and highly skilled activists who work fearlessly to improve the trajectory of this country.
For this reason, we would like to thank every one of our supporters for their support to date, but we also implore all of you to please stay on board.
Over the past decade not only has our team grown, but also the demand for OUTA’s involvement in the various challenges facing the people of our beloved country .
Due to the many requests for assistance, our resources are currently stretched, a situation that thwarts our strategic intent to tackle the many issues that whistle-blowers report to us. By our calculation, OUTA should by now be more than double its current size. But to reach that point, we need much more financial support.
We sincerely urge you not to terminate your contribution to OUTA now that the e-toll decision has been made. In fact, we ask that you remain on board and even increase your monthly donation if possible. This will enable OUTA to achieve the growth our country needs from us.
Please encourage friends and business associates to join our fight too.
Together, we can do so much more to fix our country.
On that note: earlier this month, we hosted the first in a series of business breakfasts themed The road to 2024, a year we sincerely believe is the year of opportunity to set this country on a path of correction. Now is the time to act, but for that to happen we need to join hands with more businesses as well as ordinary South Africans to do more.
I trust you will enjoy the other articles in this month’s newsletter. There’s an update on our ConCourt challenge against AARTO, some good news about Matshela Koko’s arrest and Eric Wood’s sequestration, and we also share our views on the President’s response to the Zondo report.