Dumi’s Digest: Middle class pays for its disunity

2013-12-10 10:00

‘Government wishes to emphasise that, in keeping with being sensitive to the needs of poor citizens, passengers in taxis and buses will not be affected by the e-tolling project. These transport modes will pass through the gantries free of charge. Government will continue to hold discussions with stakeholders to explain in even greater detail its position on the matter.”

This was a statement issued by Cabinet in March last year to allay the fears of millions of Gauteng commuters, that they need not worry about escalating fares due to the e-tolling system.

It was this statement that also separated the working class from the middleclass, mainly you and I who own cars and use them to get to work or move from one point to another on a daily basis.

Government knew what it was doing when it exempted taxis, which are privately owned businesses catering mainly for working class citizens.

Looking back to August 2001, taxi drivers rendered the Joburg-Pretoria highway difficult for motorists to drive on while en route to complain about the state’s taxi recapitalisation project.

The effect of this drive-slow was huge and affected middleclass motorists negatively as well.

But government pushed ahead with the project anyway.

This led to another taxi drive-slow in late October 2006 and the country’s economic hub came to a standstill.

While government pushed through with the project, it has proven to be a failure, costing taxpayers more than was initially budgeted for – and there are still unroadworthy taxis on our roads.

Even as relatively recent as March 2009, taxi operators blocked all major intersections in Joburg in protest against the bus rapid transit system. While it went ahead, government listened to the taxi industry’s demands and taxi operators were taken on board in various forms.

The resolve of the taxi industry showed that it was united in its opposition. Government imposed decisions to regulate the industry (necessary, yes, but which the industry felt it was not properly consulted on).

This leads to the current middleclass problem. The e-toll gantries went live on Tuesday and now motorists have to pay to drive on roads they use daily.

Since last year, e-tolling has been the subject of court action, marches and even politicking as we head towards next year’s general election. But all these contestations have failed to scupper government’s dogged determination to go ahead with the project.

Union federation Cosatu organised drive-slows and a march against the project. The latter was well attended while the most recent drive-slow proved to be a flop because those most affected by e-tolling, the middleclass, were not there to support it.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance went to court on behalf of the middleclass, but the courts ruled against it. Again, we, the middleclass, were not at the courts to support the alliance during the case. Our absence confirmed that the middleclass has no common purpose.

This class is so individualistic that its members cannot stand together, pool its resources and fight e-tolling.

Government was all too aware of this back in 2012. If the taxi industry, which already showed what it was capable of when opposing government, was placated, there was nothing private motorists – middle-class – could do to stop e-tolling.

Government’s class divide-and-rule tactic clearly showed it has learnt what corporations have been doing for years: when dealing with the middleclass, simply concentrate on the individual rather than the collective.

In this way, government had an ace up its sleeve, leaving the middleclass with no one to blame but itself for not being united.

We can moan all we want and vent our anger on social media or talk shows, and in letters and newspaper columns, but the e-tolls are here to stay.

While many of us continue to boycott e-tolls, maybe we should follow those who insist that it is better to pay the reduced 18c/km if you have a tag rather than the 35c/km if you don’t.

The battle might still be raging, but round one was already won by government in March last year.

What impact will it have on people’s daily

commutes in Johannesburg

Countries with the most toll roads

What motorists will pay

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