Freedom Front Plus protesters, protesting against the e-tolls, have been ordered to break up their 'spontaneous' illegal gathering by the police.
The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) caught a lucky break on Thursday morning when police decided to halt its planned anti-e-toll protest on the N1 highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg. An hour earlier, when the action had been due to get under way, only two caravans and a dozen motorcycles had arrived and the public relations stunt looked sure to turn sour on the party. But instead of having to admit failure, it got to cast itself in the role of victim.
‘This is just an indication of how the government is coming down on its citizens and impeding legitimate protest,” said organiser Anton Alberts after an argument with police, in which he challenged officers to arrest him and claimed they were invading his privacy by filming events—while surrounded by journalists with recording equipment.
‘They [police on the scene] were being pretty difficult and we suspected there would be arrests — In the end we decided not to make trouble,” said Alberts.
Police told the small group that their gathering was illegal and that they required a permit to proceed in their planned convoy. That, Alberts said, was an unusual interpretation of the law for a ‘spontaneous” gathering—which had been well publicised in advance—and ‘if we feel our rights have been infringed upon we will take the matter further with the minister of police”.
Strong police presence
More than two dozen police members and an armoured vehicle converted into a tow truck capable of, say, removing a caravan blocking rush-hour traffic had been monitoring the gathering, but officers stepped in only when the convoy started to get under way.
The police, and regular commuters on the highway, had feared the convoy could disrupt rush-hour traffic, which had already been slowed by rainy conditions. Instead, only nominal disruption was experienced by a handful of drivers passing through the parking lot of the garage where the procession had been due to start—and that mostly because of the large number of police vehicles.
The FF+, the South African Caravan Association, the National Taxpayers’ Union and what organisers described as ‘various motorbike clubs” had planned to roll down the highway displaying banners and soliciting donations for a planned parliamentary and possibly legal challenge against the implementation of e-tolls, which are due to come into effect on April 30.
Alberts said the rain had deterred some protesters and others had to leave for work, but the event had only been intended as a small advertising measure for a series of protests planned during April.
Although it failed to attract much support, the gathering did attract ‘Mal Jan” van der Merwe, whom radio station Jacaranda FM describes as the resident stuntman for its weekday breakfast show.
His camel, which he said had come to join the caravan, attracted considerably more attention than FF+ stickers encouraging R15 SMS donations to their cause.
Also on Thursday, the National Consumer Commission heard arguments from the Democratic Alliance that the terms and conditions imposed on those who sign up for Gauteng e-tags are in breach of new consumer-protection legislation.
The party contends that motorists will be forced to prove their innocence if their number plates are duplicated and used on the new toll roads, and consumers will be made to pay for the cost of transactions and administration.
The party says its challenge on these grounds does not amount to an admission that the fight to have tolls scrapped entirely has been lost, but that it must do everything it can to protect consumers.