President Jacob Zuma. CC image courtesy of the World Economic Forum.
The South African presidency’s claim that President Jacob Zuma in fact signed the controversial e-tolling bill into law a week ago is probably true, but the timing of the announcement, coinciding with the hearing of an appeal against e-tolls at the Supreme Court of Appeal, was deeply cynical.
Zuma has had the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill, commonly referred to as the e-tolling bill, in front of him for weeks, so long in fact that his failure to sign prompted South Africa’s Freedom Front Plus (FFP) to claim a “huge victory” for road users in Gauteng and the Democratic Alliance (DA) to seek clarification over its status.
The fact that its signing into law, or at least the announcement of it, occurred at the same time as the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance’s (OUTA) challenge in the Supreme Court of Appeal is surely more than just a coincidence.
While the timing may have been intended to demonstrate the government’s commitment to pushing through e-tolling, as has previously been emphasised by the South African Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), the effect has rather been to suggest a disregard on the part of the government of any possible ruling by the court.
The cynical move will also serve to strengthen the resolve of those battling against the controversial measure. Whereas Zuma may have hoped decisive action would end the discussion and smooth the way for e-tolling to finally begin, it seems more likely the manner of his passing the bill into law with redouble the opposition to it.
However, more concerning than these groups, which have now almost exhausted all legal means of fighting e-tolls, are the members of the South African public, on whose willingness to cooperate the success of the e-tolling project hangs. SANRAL’s attempts at educating the public and promoting the benefits of e-tolling may now be jettisoned by Zuma’s attempt to railroad due process and push the bill through.
This long and bitter story is by no means over, and Zuma’s crude action has likely done more to extend it than put it to bed.