Stop your pa­thetic whinge­ing and pay the bloody e-tolls


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - WIL­LIAM SAUN­DER­SON–MEYER Jaun­diced

NOW THAT Nel­son Man­dela is gone, there will be no end of peo­ple claim­ing to know ex­actly what his opin­ion would have been on ev­ery con­ceiv­able is­sue of the day.

In­vari­ably, it will co­in­cide with the opin­ion that they, too, hold.

While I can’t hon­estly hazard Madiba’s opin­ion on e-tolls, I do sense a grow­ing ir­ri­ta­tion among us non-Gaut­engers. We’re sick of the etoll ac­tivists’ pa­thetic whinge­ing. Pay your bloody e-tolls and get over it.

If you can af­ford a car, you can af­ford to pay your share of road build­ing, so let’s move on.

The rest of the coun­try is sick of your brat­tish tem­per tantrums and would like you to try to fo­cus, chal­leng­ing though it might be, on some- thing that re­ally mat­ters.

This e-toll ker­fuf­fle must be the big­gest out­pour­ing of self-right­eous mass hys­te­ria since Kenny Kunene and his Dom Perignon-quaffing pals out­raged the na­tional sense of pro­pri­ety by slurp­ing sushi off the taut tum­mies of semi-naked mod­els.

Ever since the 2010 an­nounce- ment that mo­torists on Gaut­eng’s su­perbly up­graded net­work of high­ways are go­ing to have to pay for them, there has been end­less whin­ing, lit­i­ga­tion and threats.

The anti-toll brigade seems to think the rest of us should share their pain and anger, on the grounds that this is a mat­ter of great princi- ple, not, as it seems, lo­cals ma­noeu­vring for self­ish ad­van­tage.

Sure, there are prin­ci­ples at stake. At least two. It’s just that they are not the ones that anti-toll lobby chooses to ad­mit to.

The first is eco­nomic. That wher­ever pos­si­ble, “user pays” is the most ef­fi­cient method to al­lot the costs of trans­port in­fra­struc­ture.

The sec­ond, far more im­por­tant, is po­lit­i­cal. That in a democ­racy one has the right to chal­lenge in court what one be­lieves to be wrong but hav­ing ex­hausted all le­gal op­tions, one lives with the rul­ing.

There are ex­cep­tions, as when an au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment turns the jus­tice sys­tem into just another tool to achieve its par­ti­san goals. We lived un­der such a gov­ern­ment for 46 years and the rem­edy to that per­ver­sion was a morally jus­ti­fi­able pub­lic de­fi­ance of the law.

In­deed, one should sup­port a right to civil dis­obe­di­ence for the same rea­son that one should sup­port the right of cit­i­zens to bear arms. It ben­e­fits democ­racy for a gov­ern­ment to be a lit­tle wary of those on whose be­half it pur­ports to act.

But a cit­i­zenry has the right to civil dis­obe­di­ence only when fun­da­men­tal rights are flouted; not merely be­cause it doesn’t fancy pay­ing a legally levied charge for a ser­vice de­liv­ered to spec­i­fi­ca­tions. The rem­edy for the lat­ter is to vote the of­fend­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion out of of­fice, an op­tion that Cosatu, a mem­ber of the gov­ern­ing al­liance, is clearly not keen to pur­sue.

Cosatu’s method of re­sis­tance, aside from not reg­is­ter­ing for e-tags and be­ing tardy in the pay­ment of the sub­se­quent in­voice, is a se­ries of drive-slows. It’s not much dif­fer­ent from the go- slows that Cosatu de­ploys when­ever it can’t get its way but it’s dif­fi­cult to think of any­thing more likely to lose the anti-toller lobby the sym­pa­thy of the pub­lic than emer­gency ve­hi­cles be­ing de­layed and hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple reg­u­larly be­ing made late for work and ap­point­ments.

The Op­po­si­tion to Ur­ban Tolling Al­liance – with its un­for­tu­nate acro­nym Outa, a deroga­tory ol­dregime Afrikaans word for an old black man – holds to the il­lu­sion that the tolling sys­tem is go­ing to col­lapse in the next months, if mo­torists don’t reg­is­ter and also don’t pay when billed.

It ar­gues that “ev­ery cit­i­zen has the right to re­sist the en­force­ment of un­law­ful ac­tion by gov­ern­ment… In this re­gard, the courts have not fi­nally ruled on whether e-tolling is law­ful or un­law­ful”.

That’s dis­hon­est non­sense. Un­til the courts rule against e-tolls or the fa­cil­i­tat­ing leg­is­la­tion, they are by def­i­ni­tion le­gal.

So if we are to defy the law and man the bar­ri­cades, let it be over real threats to our con­sti­tu­tional rights, like gov­ern­ment se­crecy and at­tempts to neu­tralise the pub­lic pro­tec­tor.

In the mean­while, if you want to fight e-tolls, vote for par­ties that op­pose them.

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