For whom the bell tolls

For whom the bell tolls

The government’s hopes that imposing tolls on Gauteng province’s expressway network would raise the funding needed to revamp the province’s roads have turned into ashes. Fierce opposition to the system seems to have united all, including the Gauteng ANC faction. Tom Nevin has the details.

The South African government has a choice – either to gulp, grin and pay the R29bn ($2.6bn) cost of its shambolic expressway e-toll blunder or hand the prized Gauteng province to the political opposition in the next municipal elections. 

The failure of the ANC-led attempt to electronically toll Gauteng’s expressway network has turned out to be the government’s most unintended consequence.

Its attempts to ram the project through against massive popular resistance proved stingingly to the ruling party that it could not impose its will simply because it thought it was big enough to do so, and it learned the folly of trying.



The more the government dug in its heels and tried with threats and bluster to enforce the e-toll system, the more the people, regardless of colour, economic level and political party affiliation, united against it.

Public resentment was principally manifest in both the high cost of the installation and the unreasonable toll charges on motorists using it. 

Against all sane and sensible counsel, the government bulldozed the e-tolling exercise to implementation, with disastrous results. The project was handed over to the state-owned South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) for implemenation, a departure from the many previous road tolling projects installed by private companies on a 25-year BOO (build, own, operate) system.

Half-hearted public consultation, obduracy in refusing to rectify a situation gone horribly wrong, waste of billions of rands lavished on the doomed project, and road users’ mass payment boycott when the system finally went live, have left the ruling party divided and its governing tripartite alliance in disarray.

These and other political whiplashes all contributed to the ugly public split in the otherwise revered ANC party.

It is the “fervent wish” of Zwelinzima Vavi, outspoken general secretary of labour union confederation COSATU, that the government scraps e-tolling in Gauteng and ensures that “it will not be introduced anywhere else, and that all other toll gates fees will be reduced by half and then phased out with the introduction of a more equitable and progressive fuel taxation policy”.

The main reason for the schism in the ANC is not hard to find. The party came within a whisker of losing Gauteng, South Africa’s financial, commercial and industrial powerhouse, in the elections in May this year.

It held on it to the province by a scant 3% after the desertion of 10% of its majority, thanks mainly to the obduracy of the national government in the e-tolls debacle and President Jacob Zuma’s rising unpopularity.


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Written by Tom Nevin

Tom Nevin is a South African journalist, researcher and author and contributes to a selection of publications in South Africa and abroad. He is associate editor of London-based African Business and editor of Business Word Botswana. He is leading a programme that actively promotes small and micro power projects as a first step in encouraging the economic upliftment of the continent rural poor.

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