DA starts street brawl

07 October 2013 - 03:07 By PENWELL DLAMINI and KATHARINE CHILD

The gloves are off in the political battle over e-tolls, with the DA having taken its fight to Johannesburg's highways.

Billboards blaming the ruling ANC for the tolls appeared mysteriously last week on the N1 and N3 highways, which are to be tolled.

The tolling, expected to be introduced before year-end, is still before the courts, with the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance challenging the South African National Roads Agency Limited on a section of the legislation that deals with public consultation.

And the opposition party Freedom Front Plus announced days ago that it, too, would go to court over e-tolls, arguing they are unconstitutional.

E-tolling has been widely opposed and questions raised about the lack of public participation and the amount of money Austrian company Kapsch will make collecting e-tolls.

The billboards - which bore the phrase "E-tolls. Proudly brought to you by the ANC" - had Johannesburg motorists and social media commentators guessing who was behind them. Yesterday, the DA owned up to the campaign.

It told the ruling party it needed to take responsibility for the unpopular e-tolling method.

The ANC would not comment on the issue but the DA said it had heard the ruling party was considering complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority or appealing to the Independent Electoral Commission.

DA spokesman Mmusi Maimane said: "Why is the ANC refusing to come out and defend its policy? Instead, it wants to go to court about a billboard."

Of a possible challenge from the ANC, he said: "They can bring it on."

ANC spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni-Khawe refused to comment yesterday.

Gauteng residents are awaiting the roll-out of e-tolling after President Zuma signed the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill recently.

Wayne Duvenage, spokesman for the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, said the billboards were an indication that e-tolls had become a political issue.

The latest developments confirmed that the general public was fed up, he said.

"You look at the comments about anything related to e-tolling, 90% of them are against e-tolling."

Outa has managed to raise almost all the cost of its latest court challenge after an outpouring of public support. It has received R11.4-million of the R12.8-million needed.

Suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzimi Vavi, in the midst of a fight for his political survival, has blamed infighting in the trade union federation for the ANC's successful push for e-tolls to go ahead. Cosatu has led marches to protest the tolls' rollout.

Transport Department spokesman Tirhani Rikhotso said the opposing parties, Cosatu and Outa did not represent the majority of the people of the province.

"We expect most people to go out and register and get their tags so that they may benefit from the discounts that come with being in possession of a tag.

"Our target is to have everyone comply. If you have a law you cannot have a target of 80%."

Duvenage dismissed Rikhotso's assertion and said the government's optimism was out of touch with reality: "They are obviously living on another planet . an overwhelming rejection of e-tolling."

If 30% to 40% of citizens abstained from buying e-tags "the system would fail", said Duvenage.

"By law, you don't have to get an e-tag. The law doesn't say you have to get an e-tag. The law just says you have to pay your e-toll bill."

He described e-tolling as "an absolute rip-off".

Copyrighter Gus Silber said he thought the location of the billboard campaign was clever.

"It's on the highways where people will be paying. It is really attacking where it hurts.

"It's an advert that requires a response [from the ANC]. Instead of the DA . whining, it puts the onus on the ruling party to respond."

Marketing analyst Chris Moerdyk said it was ironic. "If the ANC were proud of e-tolls it would like the advert."

But, Moerdyk said, though the campaign created awareness, it was unlikely to capture votes for the DA. "Everybody is talking about it but the DA is preaching to the converted. It is annoying the ANC supporters."