Phansi, e-toll phansi!

strike-300x199The e-toll issue has been a rather contentious one. Since early last year when the announcement on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) was made (emphasis on announcement), both SANRAL(South African National Roads Agency Limited) and the government failed to even propose the idea to the general public. Surely citizens deserved consultation before the tolls were even built. 

Now that the public is speaking out against the tolls, they are being vilified. The e-toll saga reached its climax when the budget speech took place a few weeks ago. For months the launch of the tolls had been postponed due to public outcry. In the 2012 budget speech, Finance Minister Pravin Gordan made it clear that e-tolls are here to stay. He said that it is the responsibility of Gauteng taxpayers to pay and that the price cut was very generous on their part. Initially, the tolls were set to be 66c a kilometre which could see daily commuters paying up to and over R600 a month. Coupled with petrol money and service fees, driving would become an unbearable cost burden. Gordan considers the price cut from 66c to 30c per kilometre and the R550 capped fee for regular users as generous. There is nothing ‘generous’ about an added expense to road users.

The problem with the e-tolls is that they have already been built and people have been hired to work in the e-toll shops at various malls. If the tolls were just ‘scrapped’ as many are suggesting, hundreds of people would be unemployed. This is the emotional blackmail the Minister used in the budget speech. What he conveniently forgets is that if SANRAL hired those people, they are responsible for them. It feels like SANRAL in collusion with the government have bullied the public into a corner. This is not how democracy should work.

Why do we even need these e-tolls? The justification is that the money made from e-tolls will be ploughed back into road 532611496-300x240infrastructure and aid other national expenditures. Fine. But then what are all our other taxes for? They increase every year; yet it is hard for us to see this money being used efficiently. If I knew that my e-toll money went towards someone’s grant money, building schools and the like I would happily pay it. But I know better and so do you. That money will line the pockets of some fat cat and never be used for what it should. The government is taking advantage of us and we cannot allow it.

This is why I was in full support of the COSATU strike last Wednesday. Since the inception of the GFIP, Zwelinzima Vavi has been very vocal on the matter. He thinks that the tolls are an unnecessary burden, especially to the ordinary working man. He has encouraged commuters to boycott the e-tolls by not registering for them; something that could have heavy penalties (apparently). His comment after the budget speech was that citizens are being used as cash cows and this must be put to a stop. The strike/march on Wednesday was the first decisive measure to protest against the tolls. It was a very peaceful strike which garnered support from an estimated 60 000 people nationwide. The e-toll strike was held in collaboration with COSATU’s protest against labour brokers. What was most poignant about this strike is that among the strikers there were some white middle class citizens; a very reassuring sight.

The response to the strike had the same adamant tone as it did before. It was said in parliament the following day that they will not be making any changes; their decision regarding the tolls was final. COSATU say they will not rest until further concessions are made before April. For commuters’ sake I hope they don’t; these tolls are an unfair burden.

**NOTE: Post first appeared on exPress imPress on March 14 2012. 

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No under-21’s?

Cream soda only for next year’s Freshers’ bash? Pheladi Sethusa, a second year Media Studies student, discusses recent government plans to increase the legal drinking age.

Last week I saw a news report on the planned change of the legal drinking age in South Africa. The proposed legislation states that the legal drinking age will be moved up from 18 to 21. Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini said that they hoped that this change would help in the fight against not only alcohol and drug abuse in South Africa, but also the fight against crime. 

Myself at Matric Vac in 2009. That was really just colourful water ;)
Myself at Matric Vac in 2009. That was really just colourful water 😉

As we all know, crime is a huge problem in our country and many violent crimes are connected to drug and alcohol abuse result in domestic violence, robberies and assault. The minister also made the point that currently South Africa holds the record for the highest binge drinking among its youth. Binge drinking can be fatal in relation to one’s health, which is why the government feels that this social ill needs to be alleviated in any way possible. Changing the legal drinking age is one way of doing that.

I agree that alcohol abuse is a major contributor when it comes to the aforementioned issues but I believe that it is not the root of the problem. There are stringent laws concerning narcotics in our country but yet that does not stop the drug industry growing from year to year. This is undoubtedly a result of fraudulent and incompetent policing. At the moment, minors can access alcohol fairly easily in spite of the current legal drinking age. I understand that this change of legislature is the only one which looks likely to curb alcohol abuse among the youth but I fear that it may not be enough. I also think that it is unfair to accuse people in the 18-21 age bracket as being responsible for most of the alleged alcohol-related crimes in our country.

Along with my belief that this change will be ineffective, I also believe that this change may prove detrimental to the whole varsity experience and what I would call the-coming-of-age experience. The latter refers to what turning 18 means to myself and most South African youths.

When we turn 18 we are allowed to vote in national elections, drive and legally consume alcohol. Now while the last point seems the least important it is pivotal in the transition to adulthood. Matric dances, 18th birthday parties and most importantly Matric Vac would not be the same without the choice to indulge in alcohol. My matric year would have been rather dull without the alcohol component.

Some are of the view that you do not need to drink to make an event more enjoyable and to some extent I agree but it is a personal preference you should be allowed to make, considering that you are now a young adult who can make informed decisions. With regards to the varsity experience, I think the freedom of choice that comes with entering the varsity world would be severely hindered. Imagine the Wits Orientation Week events and parties without alcohol. No more beer garden and silly buggers vodka parties. Not to mention the Freshers’ bash – somehow a cream soda on the rocks does not quite scream bash.

Personally I feel the proposed change in the legal drinking age will be ineffectual in decreasing overall alcohol consumption amongst young adults as well as decreasing crime statistics. It is a step in the right direction but South Africa needs far more than that. The government needs to look at why people are drinking so much in the first place. Is it purely recreational or are people drinking and using drugs to escape their problems? Such problems may include poverty, unemployment and perhaps even stress. For me this legislation is similar to prescribing someone with tuberculosis normal cough mixture and hoping that that will help.

The ardent drinker in me feels that this law will have a negative effect on after school life and will deprive many of the experiences that come with leaving high school. It would rob youngsters of a formative experience. How can we be trusted with electing a party who will have sovereign power over our lives but not with when and how much we drink? There seems to be a disjuncture between the two, or is it just me?

**NOTE: Post first appeared on exPress imPress on March 23 2011.