South African authorities have bowed to public pressure and postponed the April 30 launch of road tolls on 185 kilometres of the country’s national highways in the Gauteng Province.
The postponement, announced Thursday evening, just four days before the expected launch of the e-tolls, is a response to growing pressure from trade unions that had threatened to lead a second nationwide strike against the tolls on April 30.
The road tolls were to be launched in the Gauteng Province, which has the capital Pretoria and commercial city Johannesburg, before its subsequent roll out to the rest of the country's highways.
In a statement released yesterday, the Director-General in South Africa’s Department of Transport, George Mahlalela said the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) and the Department of Transport had decided to postpone the implementation of the e-tolling project until May 30 “to finalise regulations following input on regulatory and administrative issues from the public and interested stakeholders.”
The statement from the Department of Transport did not provide any more details. However, a joint statement also released yesterday by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said the respective leaders of the two organisations had met earlier to receive a report from the Task Team on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project. They then agreed to ask the South African government to postpone the implementation of the e-toll system by a month.
“This will give the task team more time to explore alternative funding mechanisms,” said the statement, which was jointly signed by the ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and his Cosatu counterpart Zwelinzima Vavi.
Cosatu, which brings together several trade unions in South Africa and is an influential entity in the ANC, has consistently opposed the road tolls, saying it would further eat into the meagre earnings of South African workers.
Last week, Cosatu intensified its opposition to the plan by asking its members not to purchase the e-tags that would enable drivers go past the tolls put up on the highways. They had also threatened to organise a series of protests through the South African Freedom weekend, which they said would culminate in “the mother of all strikes” on April 30 to disrupt the launch of the road tolls.
“Cosatu strongly believes that the pressure of the masses is crucial to forcing government to back down on this blatant extortion. Our aim is to make the tolls uncollectible and force the government and Sanral to find more equitable ways to pay for road improvements,” said a statement released by Cosatu on April 23 to drum up support for the mass action.
However, in response to the decision by the South African government, Cosatu has also postponed its April 30 general strike until the second week of May. The Cosatu leadership says though that its other campaigns against the e-toll will go ahead next week as planned.
They include a blockade of four tollgates at Middleburg and Nkomazi in Mpumalanga Province on April 30, a blockade of the highways in Johannesburg on the same day, and a march in Cape Town.
On March 7, Cosatu organised a widely supported nationwide strike to protest existence of labour brokerage firms and the anticipated launch of the road tolls. That strike resulted in 32 marches across different parts of the country and paralysed business in the country’s leading cities.