Cosatu calls for e-toll protest
"We believe that government has taken its decision," Cosatu provincial chairman Phutas Tseki told a public hearing in Pretoria.
"So, that's why we have taken a decision that we want to march on all the toll gates where we are going to have civil disobedience with our own small, medium and big cars on the day," he said. "And we want to mobilise the society of Gauteng and society at large that they would support us in this action."
Tseki said that if protesters drove slowly at the gantries, other motorists would be forced to take alternative routes.
"In our view, they are not alternative roads. They are in very poor [condition] and we cannot drive on them."
He said this would make the government see the need to build new alternative roads if it wanted to tax the highways.
Earlier, Primedia Broadcasting head Yusuf Abramjee, speaking in his capacity as a Pretoria resident, said there were no adequate alternative routes from Pretoria to Johannesburg. "Going from OR Tambo [International Airport] I have to ask which is the alternative route?"
He said the R55 and the R511, which were said to be the alternative roads, were in dismal conditions. "Let me put it bluntly: the [R55] is in a very poor state."
The hearings are being held to give affected parties an opportunity to share with the government their views about the proposed e-tolling.
Abramjee said capping tolls at R550 a month was small comfort.This was a large amount of money for many people and would make life harder for them day-by-day.
He called being taxed on urban roads an unjust law. "Do the right thing. Postpone it and listen to the people."
More than 200 people attended the public hearing at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on Wednesday.
They were given a chance to raise their questions after the technical implementation of e-tolling was explained.
People asked about the prosecutions of offenders, enforcement and transparency in the building contract. Calls for a referendum were also made.
However, people jeered and shouted down most of the answers given by a panel consisting of the SA National Roads Agency Limited and the National Treasury.
At one stage, a man who felt his question had not been properly answered called for a vote of no confidence in the meeting and suggested a walkout. More than a quarter of the room followed him.
The meeting came to an end shortly before 9pm. Most people there were unhappy at the outcome.
Centurion resident Corneleus Parkin described it as "pointless".
"... It really feels like they have made up their minds. It feels like we are fighting a losing battle."
In October, the transport department instructed Sanral to suspend all processes related to the tolling of national roads. The suspension included the planned phase two of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Plan, the Cape Winelands and the Wild Coast.
"It is important to note that there's a clear distinction or separation between phase one [almost completed] and phase two [no work has started as yet]," said transport spokesperson Tiyane Rikhotso.
He said phase one was almost complete and that the department wanted to hear alternative views from the public on the best possible model of financing the debt which had been incurred.
Last month, the government and Sanral announced new tariffs for the proposed e-tolling. The announcement, made on October 26, marked the beginning of a 30-day public consultation process, after which transport minister Ben Martins would have a fortnight to "apply his mind", followed by another fortnight to gazette the final tariffs.
E-tolling by Christmas
This means e-tolls could come into effect four days before Christmas.
The government has already contributed R5.75-billion to the project, or 25% of the total debt owed by Sanral.
The suspension was welcomed by various organisations, including the SA Municipal Workers' Union, the Freedom Front Plus and AfriForum.
In August, Cabinet approved reduced toll tariffs for the N1 highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Motorcyclists were expected to pay 24c a kilometre, light motor vehicles 40c, medium vehicles R1 and "longer" vehicles R2 a kilometre.
Taxis and buses were exempted.
On Tuesday, Cosatu called on all those affected by e-tolling in Gauteng to attend the public meetings.
"A maximum of 130 persons can be accommodated per venue. Cosatu urges people to get there early and make sure they don't miss the chance to tell government and Sanral no to e-tolls," said Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven. – Sapa