A HIGH court judge yesterday halted the roll-out of e-tolling on Gauteng's highways in a move that will affect plans to implement e-tolling in the rest of South Africa.
ANC and Cosatu leaders decided on Thursday to delay e-tolling by a month. But this was overshadowed by yesterday's judgment, which is expected to result in a much longer delay of several months or even years as the decision could become mired in court action.
Judge Bill Prinsloo granted an urgent interdict sought by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), to stop the launch of the system so that a full court review could be carried out to decide if it should be scrapped or not.
Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage burst into tears, saying: "This is for the people. I am incredibly pleased. I am speechless. I can't describe it."
Cosatu's Zwelinzima Vavi yesterday tweeted: "There is no replacement to principle and truth - congratulations!!!"
The Sunday Times has learnt that the government's lawyers only became aware of the political decision to postpone the implementation by a month after being approached by journalists when they had finished arguing their case on Thursday.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is understood to have called President Jacob Zuma to express his unhappiness over the decision, although this could not be independently verified. Gordhan's spokesman refused to comment.
National Treasury bosses said they were made to look like "fools" after arguing in court for three days that there was no way they would back down on e-tolling - only for the ANC to scupper their efforts.
The government will now have to fork out R220-million a month to service a R20-billion loan taken out to improve the toll roads. This will save Sanral from defaulting on the loan - for which the government is the guarantor.
On Thursday an urgent meeting was held between 15 senior officials a side from the ANC and Cosatu to discuss the crisis.
The meeting at Luthuli House included ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Thandi Modise, the ministers of transport, labour and police, Sbu Ndebele, Mildred Oliphant and Nathi Mthethwa, respectively, and ANC national executive committee member Tony Yengeni.
Cosatu was represented by its office bearers, including general secretary Vavi and its president, S'dumo Dlamini, as well as leaders from affiliated unions and technical advisers.
At the meeting, the ANC appears to have climbed down from its initial hardline after realising growing public opposition to tolling.
The court case in the High Court in Pretoria - in which Judge Prinsloo reserved an order on costs until the final review - has been hailed as a major victory for Outa.
Sanral will now have to go to court to explain its decision to e-toll Gauteng's highways.
In his judgment, Judge Prinsloo referred briefly to the ANC's decision to postpone the start of e-tolling.
"It is common cause that the transport minister postponed the e-tolls because of unprecedented public outcry. The last came as recently as January 2012. The announcement of yet another postponement happened two days ago. The event was not part of the issues presented to me. I will say no more," said Judge Prinsloo.
But he felt compelled to make a decision.
"I am inspired by the fact that the dispute has enjoyed nationwide prominence and debate. It is important for some form of clarity to be received," he said.
Outa chairman Duvenage was elated by the judgment. Sanral CEO Nazir Alli, also in court, merely dropped his head.
Afterwards Alli left immediately flanked by an entourage. He ignored journalists who approached him for comment.
Duvenage said: " It was a brilliant effort by an amazing team. But you can't defend the [indefensible]."
Transport Ministry spokes-man Tiyani Rikhotso said the ministry respected the decision and would study the ruling thoroughly to decide its course of action.
In his judgment, Judge Prinsloo said Outa had proved that there was a basis for a review.
"After careful considerations of the arguments, the applicant has managed to cross this hurdle. I am persuaded that the applicants have managed a prima facie case to have the decisions reviewed."
He added that the decision to e-toll was unreasonable because road users would be required to pay more for the collection of tolls than they did for the actual road upgrades.
"Sanral has refused to disclose, despite invitation, the true costs of e-tolls or the contract with the ETC-joint venture."
He said that the minister of transport had not dealt with the impossibility of enforcing e-tolling.
Judge Prinsloo referred to the four individuals whose affidavits were presented by Outa to the court as examples of ordinary Gauteng residents who would be heavily affected by e-tolling.
"There are one million vehicles that will use the toll road network. It is reasonable to accept that the overriding probability is that thousands, if not tens of thousands of motorists, will find themselves in the same situation illustrated by the four individuals."
Outa attorney Pieter Conradie said it could be two to three months before the judicial review was heard - and could take even longer if any of the parties were unwilling participants.
The Democratic Alliance applauded the judgment. Party spokesman Neil Campbell said: "This ruling at least opens the door for stopping this inexplicably costly toll collection system."
- See Page 3 of the paper