Church Leaders Statement on the decision to begin levying e-tolls in Gauteng 2 December 2013

We were shocked and disappointed to hear that Government is ignoring the protests of the people and pushing ahead with this costly and inefficient way of raising funds for the new roads.

Despite appeals by many sectors of society – including a grouping of church leaders who met with Government on at least two occasions recently – government has decided to continue implementing this controversial e-tolling system.

We explained that we cannot understand Government’s refusal to use a relatively cost-free funding mechanism like the existing fuel levy, to fund these roads. We made it clear that we reject assertions that this fuel levy would be unfair to those who do not use these roads. Is it unfair for taxes raised in Gauteng to be used to ensure that children in Limpopo receive the education they deserve? Is it unfair for sick people in Mpumalanga to be treated in hospitals funded by taxes raised in Gauteng or in the Western Cape? We all know that these roads are critically important to bolster the functioning of the economic hub of this country – which generates almost half of the total taxes raised by government nationally.

We pointed out that national government has had to make difficult decisions regarding the use of public funds in the past. They correctly ignored the cries of politicians in Gauteng who protested that most of the taxes collected in Gauteng – were not being used in Gauteng. If there are those who protest against such a fuel levy, they must be made to understand why this is necessary. That is the role of our elected leaders, and we expect them to lead.

The timing of this announcement is especially distressing, as it comes on the eve of the Christmas season – a time of great significance to the vast majority of this country’s people.

Our people have been through very difficult times in recent years – struggling with increasing costs and a faltering economy. The struggle against inequality and poverty has been exacerbated by joblessness and increasing prices. At this time of year we reflect on our faith and we renew our commitment to the plight of those who struggle to feed their families – who struggle to survive.

In the light of all this, it saddens us that our government has decided to push ahead with this costly and much maligned e-tolling system, and to do it at this time of year.

It appears to us that this action will increase the tension in our society and trigger a whole new round of opposition and social resistance. Government has made it clear that it is concerned about its credibility in the eyes of its funders (those it needs to raise loans from). This makes its choice of funding mechanism even more confusing. The inevitable resistance to this irrational way of funding our roads will introduce even more uncertainty into our funding regime – create even more concerns about our ability to pay back the loans we have raised – due to the refusal by increasing numbers of people – to pay such e-tolls.

How does it make sense to persist with this e-tolling system – in the light of such widespread rejection?

The resistance of large numbers of people will, in the light of such intransigence from our leaders, inevitably result in the use of strong-arm tactics to try and enforce this system.

Intimidation and threats will increasingly become the order of the day – to force people to collaborate through fear of reprisal. The use of legal coercion and e-tolling ‘kitskonstabels’ is not a solution, but it may appear to be ‘the only way’ – to those determined to force this discredited system down the throats of our people. Increasing confrontation may result in the adoption of undesirable and even violent tactics.

It is critical for all concerned faith leaders to take the lead at this time – to encourage all our people to show their rejection of this system in peaceful and non-violent ways. It is in this context that we re-iterate our call for our people to show their rejection of this system by refusing to buy e-tags.

It is not a legal requirement to buy an e-tag! The authorities may try and intimidate such people by charging them much higher fees for the use of our public roads. This must be exposed as coercion and intimidation – and rejected.

For those who choose this path – bear in mind that the imposition of such an e-tolling system requires the collaboration of the people, to make it work. If enough of the people refuse to collaborate, such systems inevitably falter and will ultimately fail.

While it is our duty to encourage obedience to the law, this is dependent on the law being just and reasonable and this e-tolling law fails that test. There is therefore no obligation to follow it.

There are many leaders who have decided to publicly declare their intention to refuse to pay such tolls. We can expect such people to be targeted and for all sorts of intimidation tactics to be brought to bear on them. Even if many others do not feel that they are in a position to join the ranks of those who choose this path – it is very important that we all give them support and encouragement, that we do not allow them to be singled out and coerced.

Our support may take many forms, including finding ways of providing them with assistance in getting legal representation in the struggles to come.

The months to come will be difficult, but it is very important that we continue to demand that government is accountable to the people, that consultation is not negotiable when it comes to such important decisions, and that the voice of the people has to be heard and taken account of. It appears that Government needs to be reminded of the voice of the people in 1955, as expressed in the Freedom Charter demand that “the people shall govern”!

We, the undersigned church leaders, have therefore decided to publicly declare our intention to refuse to buy e-tags and to refuse to pay this unjust e-toll,
and we call on all other church leaders, members of our churches and all South Africans who support democracy, to do the same.

Bishop Jo Seoka, President, South African Council of Churches (SACC)
Rev Moss Ntlha, Chairperson, South African Christian Leaders Initiative (SACLI) and Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA)
Bishop Zipho Siwa, Presiding Bishop, Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA)
Bishop Abel Gabuza, Chairperson, Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) Justice and Peace Department
Bishop Kevin Dowling, Deputy Chairperson, SACBC Justice and Peace Department
Bishop Paul Verryn, Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg
Rev Dr Jerry Pillay, General Secretary, Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA)
Rev Mukondi Ramulondi, Moderator Designate, Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA)
Rev Dr Mary Anne Plaatjies van Huffel, Moderator, Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa
Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS, Secretary General, Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC)
Fr Grant Emmanuel, Associate Secretary General, SACBC
Rev Hermy Damons, NEC Member, The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA)
Fr Mike Deeb OP, Coordinator, SACBC Justice and Peace Department
Fr Stan Muyebe OP, Coordinator Designate, SACBC Justice and Peace Department
Marcus van Wyk, Coordinator, South African Christian Leaders Initiative (SACLI)

Media enquiries:
Rev Moss Ntlha, Chairperson, South African Christian Leaders Initiative 082 809 8533
Fr Mike Deeb, Coordinator, SACBC Justice and Peace Department, 076 234 7148
Mr Mike Roussos, Consultant, SACBC Justice and Peace Department, 083 260 3189