Outa says it thought President Jacob Zuma would take more time to make a decision about signing the Bill that has given e-tolling the go-ahead.
It was unwise of President Jacob Zuma to sign the e-tolling Bill into law, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) said on Thursday.
"Outa is surprised at this decision, bearing in mind that recent reports indicate the presidency was going to take some time to consider the questions relating to the correct tagging of the Bill before signing it into law," Outa chair Wayne Duvenage said in a statement.
The organisation also noted a recent recommendation by the presidential commission reviewing state-owned entities that funding for social infrastructure, including roads, should rely more on taxation rather than the "user pay" principle.
Zuma signed into law the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill – paving the way for e-tolling – on Wednesday.
"The president ... has, in terms of section 84 (2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, signed the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill into law," said spokesperson Mac Maharaj on Wednesday.
Judgment on whether the e-tolling of Gauteng's freeways should be reviewed was reserved by the Supreme Court of Appeal on Wednesday.
"In effect, the Act will provide more effectively for the collection of toll; to amend the Cross-Border Road Transport Act, 1998 [Act No 4 of 1998], to empower the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency to collect toll on behalf of Sanral."
The law in effect gives the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) the nod to put into effect e-tolling on Gauteng's freeways.
With the law signed, government must publish the regulations governing e-tolls in the government gazette, at which point motorists can be fined for not complying.
The decision is likely to harden attitudes among those already opposed to the controversial system. On social media networks, Zuma's decision was called "disrespectful" of the parallel court proceedings and calls were made to "make e-tolls ungovernable".
Suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi tweeted:
I am against unemployment, poverty & inequalities - also opposed to looting, etolls, etc. that's what my friends call oppositional
– Zwelinzima Vavi (@Zwelinzima1) September 6, 2013
Other members of the public voiced their unhappiness:
We will not pay for roads which we have already been taxed. It doesnt matter whether its law or not Pres. We will render etolls ungovernable
— Pinky Khoabane (@pinkykhoabane) September 25, 2013
To sign the #etolls bill into law when matters re it are before the SCA shows an extreme disrespect by the Pres. He just doesn't care.
— Russel Brueton (@RusselBrueton) September 25, 2013
The signing came on the same day that the Supreme Court of Appeal was hearing arguments in an attempt by Outa to stop e-tolling in Gauteng.
The court was told that legislation allowed Sanral to explore options other than tolling to fund Gauteng's freeways.
It also heard that Sanral should, therefore, have kept an open mind about the matter, despite the Cabinet's approval of electronic tolling.
"Even bound by the Cabinet decision, they still had to follow the procedures of the Act," said Mike Maritz, for Outa.
He argued that the Sanral Act allowed Sanral to explore other funding options. Sanral should have considered this and should not have been bound by Cabinet's decision that the project be funded with public money through e-tolling.
The high court in Pretoria granted Outa leave to appeal against a previous judgment, handed down in December, dismissing its bid to have the e-tolls scrapped.
Judge Fritz Brand asked whether Sanral should have ignored Cabinet's decision.
Maritz said Sanral should have kept an open mind and taken all options into consideration.
Last week, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project would be implemented in 2013, but that a starting date had not been determined.
The e-tolls have been challenged by political parties and the Cosatu.
In May, after a court halted Cosatu's planned highway protest against e-tolls, the federation said it was considering court action. At the time it was still deciding whether or not to continue with its protest marches.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) on Wednesday said Zuma insulted South Africans by signing the e-tolling Bill into law on the day the matter was before the appeal court.
Zuma's signing the Bill into law was "premature and disrespectful of the judicial process", DA transport spokesperson Ian Ollis said in a statement.
"[The] president has had the bill under revision since May 2013 and could have waited for the [Supreme Court of Appeal's] ruling on the matter," Ollis said.
"It must be viewed as nothing more than a clear message to the country that he does not care about the wishes of the people of Gauteng."
The DA is helping Outa fund its court case against e-tolls. The party's premier candidate for Gauteng, Mmusi Maimane, was at the appeal court in Bloemfontein on Wednesday to support Outa's cause.
Maimane said the party would continue to oppose e-tolls regardless of the outcome of the appeal court case. If elected as premier in 2014, he said he would do "everything in his power" to stop the roll-out of the system.
In April 2012, the high court in Pretoria granted Outa an interdict approving a full judicial review before electronic tolling could be put into effect.
The interdict prevented Sanral from levying or collecting e-tolls, pending the outcome of a review. Sanral and the national treasury appealed the court order.
In September last year, the Constitutional Court set aside the interim order, and in December, the high court dismissed the application, and the court granted Outa leave on January 25 this year to take the matter to the appeals court.
Outa in its legal challenge against Sanral, the transport minister and the treasury submitted that Sanral had ignored enabling legislation for it to exercise its discretion on the project.
Maritz added that Sanral should have kept an open mind and taken into consideration all aspects, such as the cost of the project, public opinion, and whether to declare the roads toll roads.
He also said that even though Sanral was bound by Cabinet's decision to implement e-tolling, it still had to follow proper procedures.
He contended that the transport minister had not properly considered the cost of the toll system.
David Unterhalter SC, for Sanral, submitted that the agency had acted within the government's developmental policy, which was set out before Cabinet's decision to continue with the Gauteng e-toll project.
Unterhalter said public opinion had been sought about the tolling of Gauteng's freeways. He said the toll prices were a separate issue and were not part of the process of declaring toll roads.
It was also submitted that Outa had not calculated the cost of the tolling system, as alleged in court papers.
Counsel for the national treasury, Jeremy Gauntlett SC, told the judges the implementation of tolling in Gauteng had been known about for a long time.
"There was a high level of public knowledge in that e-tolling was coming," he said.
He submitted that the project's issues could not be handled as Outa had proposed to the court.
Gauntlett said the project had gone too far already for a review of the system. – Additional reporting by Sapa