Newsmaker: Avis man has an appetite for battle

2012-05-05 16:55

Meet e-tolling’s most vociferous, everyman opponent

It was the Avis man who started the battle to save Gauteng from e-tolling.

Google images for Wayne Duvenage and you’ll get those posed, company website pictures of a middle-aged guy wearing the car hire company’s red jacket.

It is a similar pose to that of the Avis lady, made famous in adverts for her willingness to do almost anything for her customers. Duvenage appears to share her values.

The road leading to last week’s dramatic high court order preventing Sanral from e-tolling Gauteng’s freeways started when Duvenage realised what the tolls would cost customers of car rental companies.

“I went to the members of the SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association and asked them, ‘Look, do you guys have the appetite for a court case?’.”

Duvenage said the subsequent Opposition against Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), of which he is chairman, “started as a business concern” but has now become a “people’s case”.

“I could sense that it was wrong for the man in the street, for the people, to have to pay for an inefficient administrative process,” he said.

The 52-year-old chief executive of Avis at the company’s Rivonia branch spins his reading glasses by one end and says he’s fighting off the beginning of a cold.

“It’s been a strain. Your immune system is coming under attack and you don’t get enough time to look after yourself,”
he said.

Over the past two years, Duvenage has had to balance his various duties as an executive of Avis, chairperson of Outa, husband and father of three.

His mailbox tripled in size and he spent the recent public holidays catching up on work.

Duvenage is quick to point out (repeatedly) that the successful court case was made possible by the teamwork of the other members of Outa.

“Mark Corcoran, Paul Pouwen and Outa’s legal team are stalwarts and soldiers.

“They are people who were prepared to sacrifice their weekends and nights working 24 hours a day sometimes to get this all together,” he said.

Duvenage’s wife, Helen, and three children also helped.

“If we lost, I could go home and hang my head and my wife never would have had the attitude of, ‘I told you so’.”

This was a response to the doubt and fear that have been part of the case for Duvenage.

He remembers thinking to himself: “If I could turn back the clock, I wouldn’t have gone down this road.

“It’s too big, this is government we’re taking on. They have got all the money, this huge legal team and they’re going to throw everything at us.”

In a way, the fight against e-tolling reminds Duvenage of his student days at the then University of Natal in the early 1980s.

“The country was a political time bomb almost, and having to stand up and talk about the ANC’s freedom was required,” he said.

Duvenage does not think it’s ironic that he’s now speaking up against an ANC government.

“What we’re fighting for here is freedom from abuse of authoritarian power, and that’s what was happening back in the apartheid days.”

Duvenage appears to be an ordinary, middle-aged businessman from Randburg, with decidedly middle-class interests (like golf and the Eagles).

Still, the Nelson Mandela quote comes to mind: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

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