27 September 2013

South Africa: Mixed Reaction to Signing of Law

There was strong reaction from civil society, political parties, and religious groups on Thursday to the signing of the e-tolling bill into law.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), the Democratic Alliance, the Freedom Front Plus, the ANC Youth League, and the African Christian Democratic Party refused to support the move.

Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage said Zuma's signing was unwise because recent reports had indicated the presidency was taking time to review the matter before signing it into law.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Fritz Brand reserved judgment on whether the e-tolling of Gauteng's freeways should be reviewed.

It was also announced on Wednesday that Zuma had signed the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill into law on Saturday.

The African National Congress Youth League welcomed the signing, but did not support e-tolling.

"Our welcoming of the act is in line with our zeal for top class infrastructure, but should not be interpreted as support for e-tolls," it said in a statement.

"We remain convinced that the e-tolls will be an added financial burden on already destitute working people of our country."

FFPlus parliamentary spokesman Anton Alberts said the move by Zuma showed his contempt for the feelings of the people.

The party believed there was a political game behind the e-tolling debacle.

Alberts suggested that Zuma was possibly planning to use the e-tolls in the election run-up.

"This puts him in a position to announce drastic cuts in the toll fees shortly before the election or to put a moratorium in place until after the election in order to mislead the public to vote for the ANC," said Alberts.

"In so doing the ANC could play cat and mouse with the South African public in a sinister manner."

The DA said it would continue to oppose the system.

"The DA urges the public not to despair now that the president has chosen to ignore the immense opposition to tolling," spokesman Mmusi Maimane.

"We will take our opposition on tolls to the streets, and we will explore every possible angle to fight it here in Gauteng, the courts, and in Parliament."

The ACDP said small businesses would be hit hard by e-tolling.

"Many of the small businesses operating in Gauteng are subsistence operations with very small profit margins. Any increase in input costs always hurts them badly," the party's Gauteng chairman Meshack van Wyk said.

"Our hawkers and spaza shop owners will suffer as a result of e-tolls, because they have to pay the transport costs of fetching their stock from vegetable markets and wholesalers."

An alliance of leaders from the SA Council of Churches, the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Evangelical Alliance of SA, and SA Christian Leaders said it was surprised by the move.

"We had no indication that this was imminent, but this does not change our confidence that government will continue to engage... to resolve matters, rather than proceeding with the implementation of a system that has been so widely rejected by our people," it said in a joint statement.

"Regardless of what happens in court, we will continue to insist that government takes the interests of all the citizens into account in making such decisions, especially the interests of the poor and marginalised."

SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) CEO Nazir Alli welcomed the passing of the bill into law.

"We at Sanral have never doubted the commitment of the president to the policies of the government he leads," Alli said in a statement.

Zuma's announcement would reassure investors that Sanral was able to meet its financial obligations, he said.

The transport department voiced similar sentiments.

"This positive development provides the necessary legal framework and paves the way for the implementation of the electronic tolling system on selected highways in Gauteng, covering at least 200 kilometres of road network," it said in a statement.

"The minister of transport will now attend to the remaining procedural matters related to the implementation process."

In April 2012, the High Court in Pretoria granted Outa an interdict approving a full judicial review before e-tolling could be implemented.

The interdict prevented Sanral from levying or collecting e-tolls, pending the outcome of a review. Sanral and the Treasury appealed against the court order.

In September last year, the Constitutional Court set aside the interim order and in December, the High Court in Pretoria dismissed the application.

The court granted Outa leave on January 25 this year to take the matter to the SCA in Bloemfontein.

The SCA heard argument on the issue on Wednesday, and reserved judgment.

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