ANC tells its partners it won’t budge on e-tolls

The ANC, as the leader of the tripartite alliance, stamped its authority this week by insisting on the user-pays principle for e-tolls.

This left the SA Communist Party (SACP), labour federation Cosatu and the SA National Civic Organisation with little room to move, despite them expressing much discontent.

Their numerous concerns, particularly those on e-tolls, at this week’s alliance summit were relegated to a future political council meeting.

Apart from Nkandla, e-tolling was among major issues weighing heavily on the ANC and its allies on the eve of local government elections.

Discussions at the alliance summit also centred on a need for more investment in reliable, accessible and efficient public transport. But ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe claimed the ANC was not worried about failures to reach consensus.

He said it was a given that parties would not always agree. “That is the class character of the alliance,” he said.

The new dispensation on e-tolls, which sees motorists paying almost 50% less than was initially proposed, went live on Thursday. The ANC believes there is no further need for concessions on e-tolls. Mantashe said the review was enough.

“We listened to the people and made concessions. To me, that’s enough for the ANC. It’s good enough, it’s positive. I think we made sufficient concessions for it to work. The infrastructure is there.”

But Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini lashed out at “unwise decisions” that favoured the elite, while the SACP tore into government’s “violent enforcement” of e-tolls. He said this was the reason why the alliance found itself on a collision course this week at the summit – in which about 83 people were given a platform to vent on various issues.

Dlamini told City Press that, even through its own admissions, the ANC had been wrong in placing the poor on the back burner by not upgrading the public transport system. Instead, it had “wasted money” on upgrading highways and investing in the Gautrain, which did not benefit the poor. The summit ended with leaders mostly failing to agree on e-tolls and other issues, opting to defer them to the next meeting of the political council. Dlamini said Cosatu would continue to engage as long as its members were unhappy. He said Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new deal on e-tolls fell short of impressing Cosatu, as workers did not want to pay. “We maintain that we want [e-tolls] to be scrapped”.

SACP second deputy secretary Solly Mapaila emphasised that differences with the ANC did not mean war but that government must not be seen to not care about the poor, who were affected by e-tolls. Mapaila said the principle should always be biased towards the poor. “We affirmed that in the movement there are contradictions; that we might not agree on finer details … but in every democracy, government must get a buy-in from its citizens. People don’t want to embrace user pays in a vulgar form.” But he believed that, with enough attention given to the public transport system, “the matter will be obsolete soon”.

The alliance could also not finalise a common perspective on the National Development Plan. Cosatu and the SACP were not happy with some aspects of the plan, including its economic chapter, which they wanted overhauled because they believed it was not adequate enough to transform the economy.

A decision was taken to revive a task team to deal with that issue.

It is understood that Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti stood to say that where alliance partners did not agree, the Freedom Charter was the answer. – City Press