Newsmaker: The e-toll whisperer

2014-09-07 15:00

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Professor Muxe Nkondo, who heads the panel that will advise Gauteng Premier David Makhura on the controversial roads e-tolling system in the province, believes the transport department and the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) will come to the table.

Nkondo and nine other experts have spent the past four weeks hearing submissions from groups and individuals about the impact of e-tolling. And the refusal of Sanral and the transport department to be heard – after Nkondo’s repeated requests – has thrown a spanner in the works.

The panel has to make recommendations to Makhura by the end of November.

Nkondo, a scholar and Harvard fellow, believes his vast experience in government policy and strategy has prepared him well for the “intimidating” task ahead.

“It’s difficult for me. I don’t want to second-guess Sanral or the department of transport. We are busy trying to arrange a meeting with them.

“We are assessing the impact of e-tolling and we will say at the end this is what we heard, this is how we understand the evidence and here are our recommendations.”

Nkondo, a former professor of English at Vassar College and Oklahoma University in the US, lives in Pretoria and uses the e-toll highways himself.

“I’m training myself not to impose my ideas and preconceptions. Naturally, we come to these things with convictions, ideologies and ideas of our own. But it’s very important, within the framework of democracy, to listen carefully to everybody and every voice,” he said.

“That’s the genius of our democracy that, after the alienating effects of apartheid, the deafness that ruled our country, there’s an attentive ear.”

Born in Limpopo to a school principal father and a domestic worker mother, Nkondo has travelled the world studying transport management systems in countries including Singapore, Japan and Brazil.

Nkondo was fired as an academic at the University of Limpopo in 1976 for bringing the university into “disrepute” by editing a book, Turfloop Testimony, which spoke about the dilemma of black students and academics at universities in apartheid South Africa.

But he returned in 1991 as the university’s vice-chancellor and lived in the same house once occupied by the rector who had him fired.

His work over the past 20 years reveals a man trusted by government departments and agencies to draft policy and strategy in fields including health, water, higher education, heritage and sustainable development.

What Nkondo loves doing most is managing deliberations – where there are divergent views and opinions and where every voice has to be heard.

“It’s not a matter of just arithmetic and figures. You have to understand the totality of our condition,” he says. “How do you make sure that every voice – the rich, poor, educated and uneducated, the believers and the nonbelievers – cohere.”

But the panel’s recommendations will be based on fact.

“The premier, and rightly so, is very strong on actual evidence as a frame of reference?...?He wants us to go to him with findings and recommendations that are based on evidence.

“But there are people in this country who don’t speak in terms of analysis and charts, they testify as to how they experience the freeway network and e-tolls.

“To us, personal and collective testimonies are very important, not analysis or argument alone.”

Nkondo, a grandfather married to respected Unisa health sciences Professor Olga Makhubela-Nkondo, sees himself as a “resource” for government when tricky policy matters emerge.

His services are in great demand. He recently worked on the National Water Resource Strategy after former water affairs minister Edna Molewa asked him to last year.

He was asked by the Eastern Cape government to help draft the provincial rural development strategy, and at the same time the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government asked him to draw up a strategy on indigenous knowledge systems.

But for the next two months, it’s all about e-tolling on Gauteng’s freeways.

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