A few months ago, Wonkie wrote about how COSATU may well be the last hope for South African road users after the Constitutional Court overturned the high court interdict to halt the Gauteng e-toll implementation. After much to and fro in the courts to no avail, the time has finally come for the trade union federation to show its strength.
Now South Africans generally fall into 3 categories when it comes to taking a stance against the government:
- Those that sit back and whinge like flaming mad rhinos to everyone that will listen, all the while hoping that some other bunch will be brave enough to actually get something done;
- Those that quietly bend over and accept such inequity as a fact of life in Africa; and finally
- A minority that will actually take action in some form, despite consequences which might be quite dire.
Ironically, the ANC leadership which quite obviously would have been classed in the third category above during the apartheid era are now facing similar options against themselves. The question now is whether the South African public still have what it takes to make their voices heard and to effect real change when it is needed. And needed it certainly it is right now: the e-tolls not only entrench the legacy of apartheid, notably the Group Areas aspect of it, but is also a poorly thought-out, inefficient mechanism based on flawed arguments of usage-driven fairness. If all things are equal and good alternatives existed, such arguments may have held some sway but in South Africa, all things are certainly NOT equal and these tolls are being applied to existing roads with no equivalent alternative.
So what are the options that may stop e-tolls in South Africa:
- COSATU mass action – on Thursday 6th December 2012, COSATU plan to take to the freeways in the early morning and block all traffic at the e-toll gantries. They have also boldly suggested that they can “help” the government dismantle the toll gantries if they need assistance to do so.
- Destroying the e-toll infrastructure – No doubt most South Africans are secretly hoping that the COSATU action will result in some serious damage to the e-toll infratructure – think fire and mayhem. Given the clear message that it is a criminal act to do so (i.e. damaging public property) may be a deterrent. But then, if this were a real deterrent during the apartheid-era, most South Africans would be understanding 7de Laan without subtitles and happily carrying along their passbooks to work everyday.
- Negotiation with government – it appears that the government is more interested in negotiating the rate of the tolling than they are about the mechanism for collecting the funds, which frankly is the real issue. If South Africans cave in and agree to even some nominal rate now, this rate will surely increase over time and citizens will have lost a good opportunity to nip the mess in the bud.
- Gandhi-style peaceful protest – Of course, the Gandhi-style qualification needs to be stated explicitly given that “peaceful protest” in South Africa seems to imply that the use of traditional weapons and blissful stabbing is fine. Wonkie is referring to thousands taking to the freeways holding candles, chanting some local equivalent of Kumbayah, and pledging not to move until the government changes its tune on the e-tolls.
- Self-immolation and Hunger strikes – This was certainly effective in the Arab Spring but quite frankly South Africans would be more inclined to burn someone else in protest rather than themselves. Wonkie thought that a Julius Malema hunger strike might have had quite an impact but it would probably result in too much confusion – most South Africans would have no idea what to hope for more.
- Civil disobedience – If COSATU’s mass action fails to halt e-tolls, this is probably the strongest remaining option for halting e-tolls. It would mean that the vast majority consciously choose not to pay e-tolls, ignoring government threats of prosecution etc. If only a few choose to do this it is easy for the government to clamp down and penalise the individuals. If everybody does so, it would be impossible for them to manage – the question is are South Africans brave enough to take such a stand?
Wonkie looks forward to reading your opinions and your speculation on what will happen with respect to e-tolling in South Africa – please leave your detailed (or not!) comments below and voice your opinion.
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