21 November 2012
Dear Comrade Lazola Ndamase
I understand you intend participating in the Cosatu Mass Action against etolls on 30th November 2012. I am writing this letter to urge you as a comrade and a friend not to participate in such a mass action.
I presume that your participation might be based on your ideological outlook and, to a certain extent, your lack of information about the details of impending implementation of etolling.
In terms of the ideological outlook, I generally consider myself to be to the left of you. Meaning, I have an ultraleft ideological outlook that borders on anarchy. It is for this reason that I would have understood your participation in the mass action against etolls to be justified.
Hence I agree that roads are a public good. Ideally, the government in a bourgeois democracy should never ask citizens to pay for the use of roads. Commodification of the roads could increase the cost of transport, leading to further impoverishment of the already suffering workers.
However, the ANC government inherited a state that operated in a capitalist economy that favoured one particular race over all others. You and I would agree that successive ANC governments have made substantial progress to redress the historical injustice that was inherited. On the same breath, we will also agree that perhaps more could have been done had the successive ANC governments adopted more radical policies.
Inheriting a racial capitalist economy meant that the fiscal policy had to be directed such that people’s competing social needs are catered for.
A year ago, I am sure you would have agreed and I hope you still agree that the implementation of free (quality) education is as important as it is urgent. The current rates of social grants are important though they do not go far enough. The national health insurance should be implemented urgently so that people do not have to die from preventable and curable diseases. Housing with portable water, electricity and sanitation should be provided to those who are condemned to squatter camps. Quality public roads should be provided to link workers to centres of economic activity and to access to basic service.
The successive ANC governments have provided some relief on access to education through no-fee school and NSFAS. They have provided social grants for kids up to a certain age, increasing access progressively over the recent years. They have provided free health care to certain categories of patients. Houses have been provided, with a certain amount of free basic water and free basic electricity.
The Constitution apportions jurisdictions to various spheres of government. The National Department of Transport, through SANRAL, is responsible for 16 170km of the national road network (as of 31 March 2012, the number may grow as some roads maybe transferred from municipalities or provinces to the national department).
Of the 16 170km of the national road network, 81% are non-toll roads. Hence, you may have noticed that there are toll gates/plazas in some of the roads around the country. This means that the majority of the roads are NOT commodified. The fiscus is able to cover costs of construction and maintenance up to a certain extent. The budget will not always match the competing social needs of the people, therefore tolling is an accepted method of funding road infrastructure where the user of the road pays for using it. In the South African case, less than 20% of the roads are tolled.
I am yet to understand why you want to match for the people of Gauteng not to be tolled, yet, when I go home Empangeni, there are three tolls when driving from Durban. The people who drive from Gauteng to Polokwane have been tolled for years. I am not sure why the elite in Sandton, whom the majority is a particular race, should not be charged for driving on a quality road to OR Tambo airport.
The argument that if tolling is allowed in Gauteng, it will spread to other provinces is not entirely true. As I indicated earlier, tolling has been an aspect of funding of the roads for many years already. Tolling does not necessarily spread by osmosis. One of the lessons that have been learned from the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) is the importance of consultation and communication. It will be up to any community to choose between waiting until the fiscus is big enough to include the construction/expansion of their road or agree that alternative funding such as tolling be used to provide them with quality roads immediately.
I should hasten to point that etolling, rather than tolling, is going to spread to other already existing toll plazas. This will help to address issues of congestion in those existing tolls, particularly in peak times such as the festive season and Easter holidays. People with e-tags will have dedicated lanes so that they do not have to stop and pay manually before passing.
Following the numerous consultations that the government has embarked upon, a lot of concessions have been granted with regard to the etolling in Gauteng.
One of the significant concerns related the effect of tolling on the poor. The government has since conceded and proposed, (in the draft tariffs that are currently out for comment until 26 November,) that the taxis be exempt from the tolls. You will agree that the majority of the workers, and their families, rely on taxis and buses to get to their places of work or learning.
Obviously, some among the working-class do drive cars that are leased to them by the banks. For these workers, they will have to be very intensive users of the roads for them to reach the usage of R550 on any given month. However, in the event they do reach R550, the draft tariffs propose that there won’t be any additional charges. So the charges are capped at R550.
The R550 cap that I refer to above would be had to reach for those who are registered and have e-tags because they are entitled to discounts of more than 50%.
As you can see, the burden of etolls visited on the working-class who use public transport is equal to zero. If you participate in the mass action, you will have to explain to me which class or stratum are you defending.
Even if the tariffs were to be adjusted, I firmly believe that the taxis will remain exempt, leaving the working-class unaffected.
During the consultations, some did propose that the roads in Gauteng could be funded through a fuel levy. The challenge with the fuel levy is that not all people who live and drive in Gauteng necessarily drive on the improved roads. It is unfair to ask a teacher who teaches and lives in Attredgeville to pay for the improvements on R21 for the JSE listed companies directors to drive on those roads. The fuel levy will also make it impractical to administer the exemption of public transport users.
You will probably agree that the government has given significant concessions to lighten the burden on the working-class. I am not sure whether it is rational to demand further concessions than what has already been given.
Indeed a lot of work remains to be done to improve public transport and the roads across the country.
The government remains open to practical workable suggestions on alternative means of funding the national roads, including the remainder of the phases of the GFIP.
At the NGC in 2010, one of the comrades suggested that the long-term plan should include “off-ramps” for social grants. None of the needy families deserve to be perpetually trapped in a cycle of poverty with only social grants as their means of survival.
I believe that provision of access to free quality education for the poor is the first step to breaking the cycle of poverty. Over the long term, there should fewer and fewer people who depend on social grants for survival. As more and more people achieve their own means of income, the current expenditure on social grants could be redirected to other social needs. I am mentioning this as an example of how I believe the bourgeois democracy should develop in order to have adequate capacity to meet the needs of the people.
I believe that socialism is the future and we must build it now. But I am aware that socialism won’t be decreed.
I support that the thoroughgoing worker’s struggles should be fought at the shop floor, in the boardroom and in the streets against monopoly capital and against any reactionary elements of the bourgeois democracy. Workers and the working-class should not shy away from fighting and defending our struggle. However, responsible leadership demands that we acknowledge tactical victories rather than overlook them and proceed to make irrational demands.
I recommend you abandon participating in the mass action on the 30th November. Instead you should visit your nearest e-tag outlet to get an e-tag for that German car that the bank has leased to you. Obviously, since we are friends, this is just a friendly advice and not an order or an instruction. If you want to be irrational, I won’t stop you. I did warn, though, that be careful not to degenerate.