Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned the government on Wednesday that the labour federation would not permit e-tolling to go ahead, as it would “drive poor people off our highways”.
He was addressing tens of thousands of Cosatu protesters — a crowd that some police officials said was the largest mass action to take place in Johannesburg since the 1980s — before handing over a memorandum of demands to Gauteng transport minister Ismail Vadi and premier Nomvula Mokonyane outside the latter’s office in the Johannesburg CBD on Wednesday.
In what is called the largest planned civil protest since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, thousands of Cosatu members and supporters took to the streets of Johannesburg on Wednesday to oppose e-tolling and labour broking. We spoke to the crowd that surged through the city’s streets.
“The majority of our poor use these highways cos there is no other alternative. [The government is] telling us to tighten our belts but our belts are already on the bone. It’s enough now,” he said.
“So we are here to fire our first warning shot, and we’ve got lots of bullets!”
“If e-Tolls is enforced we’ll barricade highways,” vowed Vavi. “The same way we made the Apartheid system ungovernable, we’ll make this system ungovernable if they don’t listen to us.”
After Vavi’s address, marchers begin shouting “Phuma! Phuma! (Come Out!)” to the premier to accept the memorandum. Mokonyane emerged to accept the memorandum, accompanied by Vadi.
“I accept this memo,” said Mokonyane. “But we must talk about our issues.”
In the memorandum, Cosatu says the the private operator of the controversial toll system is going to “milk” the public.
“All the evidence indicates that the revenues from the tolls are going to be enormous, and that the loans will be paid off quickly, leaving the private operator to milk the public,” the memorandum reads.
Demanding the dismantling of the 42 toll gantries already straddling the N1, N3, N12, and R21, Cosatu said if more money was put into stopping fraud and corruption, government would easily have enough to fund road construction and maintenance.
According to the memorandum, the trade union federation is opposed to the tolls for the following reasons:
- They will make it more expensive for the poor to travel by road, and will also increase food inflation by adding to the cost of transporting goods in and out of Gauteng;
- Toll roads will further exclude the poor and create divisions; and
- Public transport is still “woefully inadequate” with a third of workers using their private cars to get to work.
“This is not a free choice. It is because our public transport system is expensive, unsafe, and unreliable,” the memorandum reads.
Besides the Bus Rapid Transit System put in place in Johannesburg and Cape Town, there had not been any new subsidised bus route in over 10 years, Cosatu said.
Cosatu also said that having the private sector operate the toll roads is the same as privatisation, which the federation opposes.
“We pay taxes so that government can build and maintain roads, hospitals, schools, etc.
“For all of the above reasons, we demand the dismantling of the Gauteng motorway gantries, and the immediate halting, for good, of the Gauteng open tolls.” — Additional reporting by Sapa
Follow the Mail & Guardian‘s coverage of Cosatu’s 2012 march