The Catholic bishops of southern Africa have remained opposed to road tolls introduced by the government, describing them as “unjust” and “corrupt”. They have urge
d the people to unite and reject the new levies.
The government intends to roll out the road tolls in Gauteng province by the end of the year, according to transport minister Dipuo Peters. President Zuma signed the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill, which paved the way for e-tolling, in late September.
The legislation facilitates the electronic collection of tolls and the prosecution of those who fail to pay. A “foreign company”, Sanral, will collect the tolls.
The Catholic bishops have joined civil society groups to fight the tolls in recent months, saying e- tolling was an unjust way to fund the roads that have been built as part of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
A lobby group, Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), went to court in an effort to block introduction of the road tolls, but abandoned the court battle two weeks ago citing lack of funds. Outa argued the government move was illegal and meant to disadvantage the poor.
The Supreme Court of Appeal threw out Outa’s challenge and the group said it had no funds to appeal the judgment.
In their latest statement on the issue, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) stopped short of openly calling for a boycott of the road tolls by citizens, saying that “it is not illegal to refuse to buy an e-tag.”
They said the “costly and highly inefficient system” would be riddled with corruption. The bishops’ statement was issued by Bishop Abel Gabuza, chairman of the SACBC Justice and Peace Department.
“We appeal to our leaders to clear the air by taking a firm stand on the side of justice and transparency; by scrapping this e-tolling system and replacing it with a transparent and far more cost-effective method of raising the funds required (like the fuel levy),” the statement said.
They also asked the government to immediately institute a public and transparent investigation process to re-examine all the contracts that were signed in the construction of the Guateng province roads and in the purchasing of the “flawed” e-tolling system.
The toll scheme will fully control the main arterial routes that linking businesses, allowing only those who can afford to pay, to continue using them, the bishops protested.
“We want to warn our leaders that the concerns of our people run far deeper than they appear to understand, that they can no longer push aside such concerns, that the people cannot be ignored in making such important decisions,” the bishops said.
They urged the people to reject the “unjust system by seriously considering whether it makes sense to participate in this costly and unjust way of extorting money from the people who need to use our roads.”
The bishops called for an investigation to reveal who would benefit from the implementation of a system that is “costing such huge sums of money to implement – when very cheap alternative ways of paying for these roads are available.”
They urged all people of faith not to keep quiet but act together courageously to against the new pressures from government.
“In the interim we need to emphasise that it is not illegal to refuse to buy an e-tag and thus show our rejection of this whole system. Even if nothing else happens, it should become very clear to government that this system is unlikely to succeed.”