Battle of e-tolls arrives at ConCourt

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) will square up against the South African National Roads Agency Limited and national treasury as the court hears an appeal by the latter group against an interdict granted by the North Gauteng High Court against the introduction of e-tolling in April.

This will be the latest instalment in a drawn-out fight over the implementation of the system, which has taken its toll on the economy as ratings agency Moody’s warned continued indecision on e-tolling threatened South Africa’s credit rating.

E-tolling has also seen the ruling ANC clash with its alliance partner Cosatu as the duo is still divided on the matter.

The furore over the system eventually saw an inter-ministerial committee being formed by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in the hopes of expediting the matter to an end point.

The R20-billion Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) saw 185km of Gauteng's road network being upgraded, with a view to reducing congestion on the province's M1 and N1 highways.

The Sanral project aims to see Gauteng's road users billed electronically when using the province's highways. The tolling requires commuters to fit an e-tag which will monitor the number of times they pass a specific gantry on the highway, and will then charge them accordingly. Cars without e-tags will have their licence plates monitored and billed for their journeys.

But as the matter heads to the highest court in the country, it would seem the controversy surrounding the system and its operation will only deepen.

Absolute ruling
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said the case could be groundbreaking in determining the length to which government’s power over the courts run.

"If government is asking for an absolute ruling on whether a court can or cannot rule on government policy, that’s something that has never been seen before," De Vos told the Mail & Guardian.

"It will cut straight to the principle of the separation of powers between government and the courts."

Nonetheless, government will be faced with more than just the possibility of challenging the Constitution.

Outa, a civil and business alliance formed to legally challenge the rolling out of e-tolling, heads into Wednesday’s court proceedings in high spirits.

"We're confident as can be. We've prepared well but we won't rest on our laurels as we know we will have to work hard to uphold this interdict," Wayne Duvenage, Outa chairperson, told the M&G.

The alliance has garnered support from Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and other opposition parties, as well as civil society.

Prepared for any eventuality
So far Outa has managed to raise R5.5-million to fund their legal battle, with over R1.5-million coming from private individuals.

"Money is coming in a lot slower than we'd like but it's getting there. We need about another R4-million or so more to pay for all our prior costs as well," Duvenage added.

He said Outa are prepared for any eventuality and will continue their legal challenge should the Constitutional Court rule to have the interdict lifted. "The review has to happen regardless, so we await our date in the North Gauteng High Court no matter what happens at the Constitutional Court."

Meanwhile, the DA failed in its bid to join the case on Gauteng's e-tolling as a friend of the court but is still planning to lead a protest outside the court against the decision to appeal the interdict.

For the moment it also seems as though Outa is not the only one making contingency plans, as Motlanthe’s spokesperson Thabo Masebe said the inter-ministerial team will monitor court proceedings.

"The team, led by the deputy president, is still preparing the report that it will deliver to Cabinet and the committee will continue its work in spite of the case brought to the Constitutional Court," Masebe said.

The case begins at 9am on Wednesday.

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