Jack Bloom MPL
DA Leader in the Gauteng Legislature
“It’s a done deal”.
So said Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele in parliament last week about the tolling of Gauteng highways.
Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi said the same thing in a legislature debate as he taunted me to buy an e-tag.
How wrong they were, as proved by Judge Bill Prinsloo’s interdict against the implementation of the tolls.
The Democratic Alliance played a pivotal role in the anti-toll legal challenge.
In November last year a concerned person sent us an e-mail querying how the R21 highway could have been legally transferred from province to national, and then handed over to SANRAL to become a toll road.
This transfer was done by former Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa in a two-page memorandum, and real public participation was minimal.
I passed this on to attorney Owen Blumberg who found more grounds for legal challenge.
We met with car rental and freight industry representatives in December to take this further.
It was better to have a broad front in this matter and the DA could only afford a limited amount towards an expensive legal action.
But the industry representatives were still negotiating with government and thought that legal action should be the very last resort.
I pushed for an early meeting in January to persuade them that preparation for a court challenge was urgent.
I remembered this when I listened in court to Advocate David Unterhalter hammering the applicants for delaying so long in going to court.
The legal case took time to put together, and papers were served on 23 March.
Any later and the respondents would not have had reasonable time to respond before a court date that needed to be before the 30 April implementation date.
So it was a close-run thing as Judge Prinsloo first had to rule on whether the application could be heard urgently before the tolls went ahead.
When he allowed this, the way was open for the interdict that he granted that in my view has effectively killed the tolls.
Court action will drag out, so government will have no option but to cancel the exorbitant toll collection contract.
Even though damages will have to be paid it will still save us money.
SANRAL CEO Nazir Alli has claimed that collection costs are only 15%, but according to a parliamentary reply by Transport Minister Ndebele, in its first year of operation R1.12 billion would be spent to collect R1.02 billion.
This is clearly irrational and unreasonable, as argued in court by the interdict applicants.
I invited COSATU to join the legal action, but they didn’t.
We can be grateful for our independent judiciary that has proved more effective than street action.
The mass public opposition was acknowledged, however, by Judge Prinsloo.
This included the anti-toll petitions and the e-tag boycott that the DA supported as a legitimate consumer protest.
The e-toll contract was born in sin without proper consultation.
It must now be repudiated to enable a rational and cost-effective funding of the Gauteng highways.
It’s been a long winding road to stop the tolls, but the end is in sight.