I’m over Outa

The news that someone who works in the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) buildings has been arrested on charges of terrorism, related to the hoax white powder and bomb scares, seems to have come as something of a relief to those opposed to e-tolling. We are told by Sanral that the individual in question is "not technically an employee". Given the billing and other problems that appear to have accompanied the launch of e-tolling, wags might be forgiven for pointing out that that's a description that might usefully apply to other permanent staff.

The most relieved response has come in the form of a press release from Outa, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance. Actually, in an apparent bid to make its identity more aggressively aggrieved, Outa has changed its name to, uh, Outa. Or in full, "The Opposition to Unjust Tolling Alliance."

Outa’s press release, in a peculiar mashup of McCarthy-era scaremongering and EFF-style pontification, is headed "Outa is not the enemy: The enemy is within." One can't help sensing a certain degree of suppression in this line: "Outa is relieved to learn of progress made by the police in connection with the recent hoax anthrax and bomb scares." It's as if Outa – and read our own anthropomorphisation of this organisation as deliberate – has realised that its grim opposition, and that of the increasingly shrill bedfellows it is associated with, could easily be situated at a point on the continuum that leads from angry letters in the press to bomb threats and keying cars displaying e-tags.

It's almost as if Outa itself feared that one of its supporters was responsible, and indeed that its resistance to e-tolling might have to, inevitably, lead to this point. This might be a moment for supporters of Outa to embark on some self-analysis – if you fear that the ingredients for erratic and extreme responses are built into your cause, then that cause itself might be illogical.

Outa's press release paints its opposition to paying tolls as a mighty crusade. "South African society is in an ongoing systemic pathology of fear due to the erosion of the rule of law. That is why Outa continues to exist. To challenge rule by unjust law and re-establish the rule of just laws and fair policies that advance a culture of human rights, promote social cohesion and reweave the social fabric."

Less sophisticated thinkers might wish to tackle gender violence, police corruption, child abuse or labour atrocities first, but apparently that would be going the wrong way about it. All those grosser examples of the erosion of the rule of law in fact stem from e-tolling. The fact that e-tolling is actually legal makes it worse, apparently. Every beep as you pass under a gantry is the sound of another crystalline tear falling from beneath Lady Justice’s blindfold and shattering on the highway. This inverted gephyrophobia has become risible. There are much more important battles to fight, and ones that are potentially winnable.

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Chris Roper
Chris Roper

Chris Roper was editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian from July 2013 - July 2015.

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