e-Tolls Media Release

Stand up to the bully-boy

11 March 2012 – By Redi Thlabi
SOUTH Africans are right to oppose e-tolls. And we must continue to use all avenues to voice our objections. The government cannot bully us into submission.
“Get used to it” and “Polls are here to stay” are clear indications of a government that needs a lesson in the language of persuasion.

Any government that uses its might to browbeat citizens into accepting something that is so blatantly wrong must know that its victory is hollow.

The government’s management of the tolling system has been a shambles and, like school bullies, they are manipulating the situation and making the victim the culprit. Typical of bullies, they prefer to kick and punch those weaker than themselves.

I’d love to see them go to Noord Street and try to ram this down the taxi drivers’ throats. It won’t happen, because they know that they will meet their match. The argument that taxis and buses transport the poor and therefore should be exempt is pure duplicity.

E-tolls will affect not only the rich, who make up a tiny percentage of our population. It is the working classes, the people who keep the engine of our economy going, the job-seekers who travel far and wide in search of jobs, who will bear the brunt of this extortion. How did our government determine that only poor people travel by taxi and bus?

A former neighbour of mine moved to a different province and bequeathed her old van to her gardener, who was about to lose his job. The car was meant to be a start of great things. To this day, he’s poor, lives in a shack in Tembisa and collects garden refuse for an income.

I’d love Blade (“I hate rich people, even though I am one”) Nzimande to meet a woman who sells vetkoekto workers in the Sandton CBD. She gets a lift from Atteridgeville at 4am every day with a neighbour who works at a factory shop in Wynberg. They use the roads, but are not rich. There are sales reps who use vehicles in search of clients and earn an income only from commission. They use the roads, but are not rich. What about cash-strapped small businesses that face closure because government departments are not paying them? They, too, use the roads, but are not rich.

The government has been a tad mendacious on the tolls. In preparation for the World Cup and to counter negative international coverage, local media went the extra mile to highlight the positive spin-offs of hosting the event. In one radio interview, the public was told that the Gauteng freeway improvement project would be a fitting legacy of the World Cup, but the powers-that-be forgot to mention that motorists in the province would pay later.

Motorists were told a viable public transport system was on the cards which would give them the latitude to make cost-effective choices. And there was the promise of alternative routes for those who did not wish to be tolled. We are still waiting for all of the above.

Some argue that it is not fair for the entire country to pay for Gauteng’s luxuries. Really? Viable public roads are now a luxury?

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan tells us that the national Treasury is contributing R5.8-billion to finance the R20-billion debt from the project. This is not as charitable as it sounds, because Gauteng motorists are also contributing to the R5.8-billion through the fuel levy and other taxes. What this means is that the government is using OUR money to finance part of a debt we didn’t agree to, and the difference will be paid by us.

But Gordhan knew this would be a heavy blow, so he softened it by reducing the fee from 66c/km to 33c/km. Except that the 20c increase in the fuel levy and the recent 28c petrol price hike will take care of any benefit we may have derived from his “generous” offer.

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