E-tolls strike: Who will budge first?

2012-03-07 10:37

Government leaders will be watching the turnout of today’s Cosatu marches against e-tolls and labour brokers with great interest – and so will the labour federation’s leaders.

Unions affiliated to Cosatu are striking to protest against government’s decision to go ahead with imposing e-tolls on Gauteng’s freeways in April, albeit at reduced rates, and with its refusal to ban labour brokers outright.

The issue could become a battle of wills between President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet and the ANC’s best-organised alliance partner, and like in a game of chicken, it would be interesting to see who gives first.

Although the real story is probably a bit more nuanced, Cosatu has painted the e-tolls as a project by greedy tenderpreneurs imposed by a “bullying” government.

At the head of this government is Zuma, who has always been painted as a man with a popular mandate, and who would be seeking the support of the people again ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in December, where he might be challenged for the party’s presidency.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, during his budget speech two weeks ago, announced that the tolls would be slashed from the top rate of 66c per km for a car with no e-tag, to 30c per km for a car with one.

Significantly, during the embargoed press conference before his speech, it was Gordhan who spoke about the tolls to journalists, leaving Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele, who sat next to him at the briefing, without much to say.

The reduction in tolls – presumably a nod in Cosatu’s direction, like the announcement that taxis won’t be paying tolls – was a decision Zuma’s Cabinet took the day before the briefing, but Gordhan was clear that Cabinet would not budge on the user-pay principle.

The ANC has subsequently failed to endorse the march, saying that Gordhan’s reduction in toll fees had also made it affordable to the poor.

As for labour brokers, the legislation regulating them must be pushed through this year, Zuma said in his state of the nation address last month. As negotiations around the bill stand at the moment, it’s clear that Cosatu won’t be getting the outright ban it has demanded.

Cosatu has managed to get many of its friends, and even sometime friends like the ANC Youth League – which is Zuma’s number one enemy – out to the march.

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, a great friend of Zuma’s, took a while to say so, but by Monday he indicated that the SACP would be joining the march.

The SACP’s stance on the tolls is softer than Cosatu’s. The party reckons the horse has bolted, and the best that can be done now is to probe whether contracts have been irregularly awarded.

The SACP is in a difficult position because its deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin, also the deputy minister of transport, was the one who made the announcement about the toll rates at a briefing in August last year.

Cronin is being made to sell the project to the public, even though it was the previous administration that embarked on it, and even though the concept of public-private partnerships (PPPs) is hardly one that his party would endorse.

Cosatu’s friends from civil society and NGOs, like the Black Sash, are also joining today, but the DA withdrew in a huff after being told by Cosatu that they were not invited.

The DA is also opposed to the tolls, but its reasons are different to Cosatu’s and besides, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi last week accused the pro-PPP party of being “opportunistic” in latching on to the anti-toll campaign.

The DA believes there are better and more cost-efficient ways to get the money for the roads than e-tolls, and these alternatives should have been investigated.

If today’s strike fails to convince the government to scrap the e-tolls, Cosatu and the DA have threatened civil disobedience.

If the strike is well-supported today, it might mean that there are a lot of people out there willing to civilly disobey.

In terms of ANC internal politics, it could also mean that there will be a lot more strikes like these in the next 10 months.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.