Good Morning, Coffee, anyone?
I wanted to start this week’s blog by writing about the recent e-tolling saga ( formally known as the Electronic Toll Collection or ETC) in Johannesburg which has had Johannesburg motorists up in figurative arms. I wanted to note and remember with you what happened in Johannesburg’s streets after the ETC, went live in December of 2013. I wanted to remind you of the three most outspoken and loudest voices against etolls in Johannesburg with the exception of the Opposition for Urban Tolling Alliance OUTA: Ousted Cosatu president, Zwelinzima Vavi, Patrick Craven, who resigned as the labour union federations’ spokesperson in April this year and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) which has since been expelled from the Union Federation. I thought it curious that the panel of experts resolved to continue with the etolls despite widespread public opposition, and that Cosatu under the new leadership has all but changed its line and has tacitly endorsed the new dispensation, urging Gauteng citizens to just pay in not so many words. I thought it was a curious coincidence then I thought; wait a minute, this is much deeper than I thought.
This feels like a long hang-over: The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project ( GFIP) which includes the two main ETC methods: the “boom-down” electronic toll collection and the ” open road tolling” (ORT) which went live in Johannesburg in 2013 were implemented in 2007. Which means that the decision to install ETC in Johannesburg was taken in the early 2000’s under former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration with minimal to no public consultation with the caveat that perhaps in this instance a majority vote for the ANC was enough of green light for all of the ANC government policy positions. The project which was largely completed by April 2011, is ostensibly not the incumbent President Jacob Zuma’s decision even though he served as former President Mbeki’s right hand man for much of his tenure. In fact these decisions were likely taken and implemented in mid to late 90’s, with the first casualty being the controversial Arms Deal Saga.
It’s so boring though…
You may think that this is effectively a moot point, but I think it puts the issue in context and makes very clear the country’s policy of privatizing some key national assets; which I think (though I will stand to be corrected) will in time include Eskom, Telkom, Sanral etc. Which has not shifted since the country’s democratic dispensation. This follows to the tee former President Nelson Mandela’s plea to the International community for foreign direct investment (FDI) in public-private partnership deals which formed the basic foundation for the country’s economic policies over the years: Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) and now the National Development Plan (NDP). President Mandela urged investors to come to South Africa saying ‘ We have many public assets, and we have the workers and labour unions under our control, we would like to partner with you” during his maiden trips as the country’s first democratically elected president. So what? Perhaps giving in on economy in exchange for “political” freedom was the only peaceful option for transition available to him and his team at the time. Perhaps he hoped that in time we’d gain some ground and through some sheer force of political will gain some control over our economic future, perhaps it was just a foot in the door, perhaps it was the best way to avoid a civil war. Again so what?
Consider God’s Bits of Wood
As we mark and celebrate Africa Day this week, we do so soberly in South Africa on the back of brutal attacks against our brothers and sisters. And boy do they have a lot to teach us. They’ve been there before. Take a look at the book, God’s Bits of Wood, a seminal work of literature by Senegalese writer and film maker Ousmane Sembene, in which he fictionalizes a historical account of the 1947/8 Senegal-Niger railway strike which changed the course of West Africa’s political history. For six months workers demanded salary increases, back pay, family allowances and pension funds – equal to what railway line workers in France were earning. A preposterous request by any stretch of the imagination at the time. Africans were not even considered human, let alone workers who deserved to earn salaries equal to white people who were then considered superior by virtue of the colour of their skin which also offered them a higher level of education, training and skills. The striking workers were ignored and during the course of six-months, had to survive without food, water and money. However they refused to relent, instead they united with other workers in Mali and Senegal and refused to go back to work on the repeated promise that their concerns/needs will be gradually addressed. Their employers argued that they had already benefited from Frances’ civilizing mission to Africa and a family allowances would prove too expensive as the Africans kept more than one wife, calling all African women concubines and or whores in short. Following a march from Mali to Dakar, Senegal led by those very concubines ( Women’s march) the striking railway workers received all of their demands in full; effectively forcing the French to recognize black African workers (African labour) as fundamentally equal and worthy of the same benefits as their European (white) counterparts when performing the same tasks. The book is a work of genius.
You’re not serious…
I think the ETC saga in Gauteng presents a similar opportunity for motorists in the province ( and South Africa citizens in general) to stand for what is right, but of course the battle will not be won by three of the estimated 3.5 million registered motorists in Gauteng. It will only work if all motorists stay united so that government understands that since it did not consider it necessary or imperative to fully and properly consult tax/rate/ payers/users of highways before signing said deals, it is equally and just as unnecessary for them to expect them to pay for something they never endorsed in the first place. It is a matter, indeed, of principle. Government cannot continue to pay lip service to “Batho Pele’. Perhaps in this way, this and the next administration will know to actually put people first when making plans for the country, as it is ultimately this country’s citizens who will have to pay. This might, hopefully, pave the way for government to re-consider its fiscal policy to date and maybe think about truly restructuring South Africa’s economy in a way that truly creates and sustains real growth. Because try as we might, we are not France nor are we Norway, Denmark or any of these European countries we are meant to emulate and impress. We need to create our own economic policies and plans that are tailored to fit and suit our unique economic position and not size zero designs meant for models who live on coffee and cigarettes – we cannot unfortunately copy and paste development. I have faith that if we truly apply ourselves we will find the best economic solution for ourselves, but it has to come from South Africans and not as has been the case so far, our benefactors.
Yoh, dude! So you wanna be starting somethin’
It will be useful to quote here, political economist Mary E Clark when she said “In life some things can be counted and others cannot. Those things which matter most – Beauty, faith, friendship and self-expression – are immeasurable. There is no way to count them. They are not marketable. As soon as we put a price on them they are debased and prostituted. Yet as a society this is exactly what we do. Only what can be bought and sold is given value” I think this is one of those “things” in life, that just cannot be bought or sold: the right to self-determination.