Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “toll roads”

Bathed in the coloured vomit

Last night I travelled along this stretch of road, perhaps for the last time — the N1 highway going north. I’ve travelled along it quite frequently, taking our son Simon home from work, with his bicycle. He cycles to work in the day, but at night we try to fetch him, because it’s harder for motorists to see cyclists in the dark.

N1 highway with e-toll gantry

N1 highway with e-toll gantry

It’s just on at one intersection at Atterbury Road, and off at the next, the N4 interchange, but in between is one of those toll gantries with its ominous blue lights. And today the toll gantries started operating, or so they said, so I probably won’t be going down that stretch of road again in my lifetime.

Toll roads were introduced in South Africa in the 1970s. Up till then roads had been paid for by the roads fund, which was financed by a fuel levy. It was a good system, and worked on the “user pays” principle — the more you used the roads, the more fuel you would use, and the more you would pay. Heavy vehicles, which caused more wear to the roads, also used more fuel, and so paid more.

But the National Party government wanted to finance the invasion of Angola in 1975, and so it diverted money from the Road Fund for that, and introduced toll roads. When the ANC government came in in 1994, we hoped that the privatisation of infrastructure like public roads would stop, and perhaps be reversed, but the ANC government seems even more eager to expand the toll road system.

But the decision to introduce tolls on the busy urban freeway system of Gauteng has sparked unprecedented resistance. Zwelinzima Vavi, the trade union leader, said yesterday on Twitter ‘let’s unite & teach SANRAL & Govt the real meaning of “The People Shall Govern”‘ He was the leader of Cosatu, the biggest trade union federation in South Africa, and was recently suspended, many suspect because of his opposition to toll roads.

Many other influential people have said they will not register or pay etolls, including a number of church leaders:

Church leaders vowed on Monday to refuse to pay to use Gauteng freeways and called on others to do the same.

“We… 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,” they said in a statement.

“… We call on all other church leaders, members of our churches and all South Africans who support democracy to do the same.”

The leaders, including SA Council of Churches president Bishop Jo Seoka, the Central Methodist Mission’s Bishop Paul Verryn, and Methodist Church of Southern Africa presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa, said the decision had not been easy.

However, it had to be made as the government was not listening to the people.

They said they were shocked and disappointed to hear the government ignore the people’s protests and push ahead with e-tolls.

And I don’t think this will be the end of it, it’s only the beginning.

To paraphrase a poem by John Betjeman:

When all our roads are lighted
By glowing monsters sited
Like gallows overhead
Bathed in the coloured vomit
Each monster belches from it
We’ll know that we are dead.

Homeward bound

When we arrived at Lentswe Lodge in Serowe, Botswana, the previous night, it was dark. From the balcony we could see street lights in the distance, but had little sense how close or far away they were. When dawn came, we looked from the balcony at a spectacular view over a plain.

View from our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, Serowe, Botswana

View from our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, Serowe, Botswana

When we arrived at dusk it felt as though we were in the middle of an urban area, so we weren’t prepared for the magnificent view we saw when the sun came up.

Balcony of our cottage at Lentswe Lodge

Balcony of our cottage at Lentswe Lodge

We packed up and left at about 8:00, and stopped on the road below the Lentswe Lodge to take a photo of our cottage perched on the hillside up above before driving into Serowe and filling up with petrol. One of the garage attendants brought us a form for a competition to win a tractor, and I filled it it. It was just the kind of thing we would win, so I thought I’d better Google for a suitable agricultural project to donate it to, just in case we did.

The road down from Lentswe Lodge

The road down from Lentswe Lodge

We set off again and as we approached Palapye saw a rather large industrial conplex, and as we passed it saw that it was the Marupule Colliery, next to a power station, which we passed at 8:50, 38.4 km  from the Lentswe Lodge.

Our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, seen from the road below

Our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, seen from the road below

We drove through Palapye, and turned off to Martin’s Drift, and at 9:45, 75.6 km from Serowe, stopped at a sitplekkie to eat the packed breakfast they had given us at Lentswe Lodge – a sausage, a small carton of yogurt, two boiled eggs, a mince jaffle and an apple. I ate most of mine, and threw the carton in the bin, though there was rubbish strewn all over the ground, more outside the bin than in it. It was certainly not clean like the Namibian sitplekkies, but as it was on the right-hand side of the road, we wondered if it were not South African travellers coming through the borders who were making all the mess.

Crossing the Limpopo from Botswana (on the left) to South Africa (on the right)

Crossing the Limpopo from Botswana (on the left) to South Africa (on the right)

We reached to border at Martin’s Drift at 11:15, 158 km from Serowe, and crossed the Limpopo River back into South Africa. The Limpopo didn’t look nearly as impressive as the Okavango, or even the Boteti!

Once again, the immigration officials on the South African side were more surly and less professional than those on the Botswana side. We were also amused by signs in the toilets, welcoming people to South Africa, to give first-time visitors their first taste of South African culture and customs.

Welcome to South Africa!

Welcome to South Africa!

That sort of thing seems to be common to welcome people to a country. In 1966 I left South Africa in a hurry, to escape the clutches of the Security Police, driving through the night to cross the border with Rhodesia (as it then was) at Beit Bridge, a bit downstream from Martin’s Drift. It was just after UDI, and tension was high, but relieved when we saw the desks where one had to fill in  immigration forms, each with a neatly-printed notice with the exhortation, “Please do not allow your children to scribble on the blotting pads.”

Why is it that one’s first introduction to a country is so often a notice prohibiting something or other?

There were about 50 cars parked on the grass next to the parking area, covered in dust, and we wondered if they had beren confiscated as vehicles whose papers were not in order, possibly stolen, but if they were, it seemed that the real owners had made no attempt to claim them. There were also some police vans parked there, and I got the old feeling that one used to get, returning to apartheid South Africa after a visit to a neighbouring country, that one was returning from freedom to a police state. Why is that? It was much more pronounced in the 1960s or the 1980s, but why now. I know in my head that it isn’t so, but emotionally it still feels a little like it. Is it perhaps a result of the Marikana massacre?

Apparently ownerless cars at the border - stolen? Or illegal imports? Could one of them be yours?

Apparently ownerless cars at the border – stolen? Or illegal imports? Could one of them be yours?

Beyond the border post, the countryside feels different too. There are cultivated fields with irrigation sprinklers instead of natural bush. The verges are narrower, there are more wires by the side of the road. Botswana felt wild, this now feels tame and civilised. We turned off for Lepalale, formerly known as Ellis Ras, and drove through it looking for somewhere to eat, as it was 12:30 and getting on for lunch time, but saw nothing, so headed out for Vaalwater, and passed through some bush-covered hills, as wild as anything we had seen on Botswana.

Hills near Vaalwater

Hills near Vaalwater

At Vaalwater there was a restaurant that looked closed, and a Hotel-Bar, which looked more like a local watering hole than a place geared to providing meals.

Beyond Vaalwater the Waterberg mountains were beautiful, as I remembered them from passing this way with Stan Nussbaum 13 years ago. We went on into Modimolle, formerly known as Nylstroom, and had lunch at the Wimpy. They did a reasonable steak egg and chips, small enough to eat, and I knew to avoid their hamburgers at all costs.

Waterberg, between Vaalwater and Modimolle

Waterberg, between Vaalwater and Modimolle

We left at 2:56 pm, having covered 408 km from Serowe, and drove along the old road to Bela Bela, formerly Warmbaths. The road was quite narrow and winding, and there were obviously many, like us, driving here mainly to avoid the toll road. But this road is also far more interesting, and I always love seeing the sign to “De Nyl, s’n oog” (The Nile, its source). From Bela Bela we drove along the R101 where the speed limit was 120 km/h, so it was no slower than the freeway, though we went at about 110 most of the way to Pienaar’s River.

After that it started to get more built up, and at Temba, north of Hammanskraal, the speed limit was 60 in many places, and when we started to encounter pedestrian crossings with humps, we went on to the toll road. It cost just over R18.00, and a bit further on there was another toll gate, where we had to pay another R8.00. We had no more South African cash money, so Val used her credit card, and  so it cost about R26.00 from Hammanskraal — I wonder what we would have had to pay if we had gone on the toll road at Modimolle? But Hammanskraal is within Tshwane, and so people from there, coming to work in Pretoria, would have to pay over R50.00 every day, and they are the poorer people. There are protests against e-tolls that are about to be introduced on most of the Gauteng freeways, but these older toll roads are just as iniquitous, when a 20c per litre increase in the fuel levy would pay for the lot.

We got home at 4:30, having covered 538,7 km from Serowe, 1140.5 from Maun, 1545 from Shakawe, 1836.4 from Rundu, and  2338,4 from Odibo, which was about the furthest point we had reached from home. Over the whole trip we used 5,6 litres of fuel per 100 km.

You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

Nationalising mines… and roads

There has been some discussion in Twitter about nationalising mines, and today Olwethu Sipuka (@osipuka) tweeted “In the 1980’s, the Dep of Public Work could build world class roads etc. What stops us from nationalising mines?”

And my immediate thought was, What stops us from nationalising the roads?

It is true that the Department of Public Works built some excellent roads in the 1980s, but many of them were military roads, intended to get troops to “the border” as quickly as possible. They were little used by the public, and some of them are now in poor repair.

Also in the 1980s, many of the roads that were used by the public were privatised, and turned into toll roads. That was because the National Party government robbed the road fund to pay for its military adventures in Angola. Since we no longer see any need to invade Angola and destabilise our neighbours, it’s high time we nationalised the roads that were privatised back then. But instead, the ANC government is continuing the National Party’s policy of privatisation, and is converting more and more roads into toll roads.

I can think of several reasons why nationalising the roads would be a good idea.

But I can also think of several reasons why nationalising mines would be a bad idea, a very bad idea.

Here are some of them:

  • Mines are a wasting asset. Many mines are nearing the end of their useful life. so taking them over would just be an additional burden to taxpayers. Mining companies amortise the profits over the expected life of the mine, but the profits, for the most part, have long since gone.
  • Mines are becoming a liability. Many mines have caused a lot of pollution, which is becoming worse as they are mined out and no longer work. For example there is acid underground water that needs to be treated. It is only fair that the companies that made the profits should pay to clean up the mess. But if the mines are nationalised, it is the taxpayers who become responsible for paying to clean up the mess that others have profited from.
  • Dying mines will need to lay off workers. If dying mines are nationalised, the government will have to reduce the workforce, and lay off workers. This will set workers against the government.

There are other reasons too, but these are the main one that make me think that we should think twice before nationalising the mines, but that the roads should be nationalised without delay.

Toll roads: it’s not the price, it’s the principle

Back in the 1970s all roads in South Africa were paid for by car licence fees and a fuel tax.

That is the “user pays” principle. The more you use the roads, the more petrol you use, and the more you pay. It’s simple.

And the collection is simple too — back then there was no VAT or sales tax, which are more complicated systems. But the fuel tax was much simpler than either of those systems.

Then the National Party government decided to raid the road fund to pay for its invasion of Angola and its destabilisation of Mocambique. And to compensate for that they decided to convert some existing roads into toll roads. So we had to pay twice. We had already paid for the roads through the fuel tax, and now we had to pay tolls as well.

Now we have an ANC government, which talks about “transformation”, but their idea of “transformation” is to continue to old NP policies, and even to extend them.

And that reminds me of this:

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?

And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.

But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:

And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter?

And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.

And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day.

And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him;
And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD, that he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents (1 Kings 12:6-16).

The old men, people like Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani, are cold in their graves.

But the young men are the tenderpreneurs.

The NP chastised us with whips, and now the ANC, on the advice of young men who knew not Moses Tambo, has decided that their little finger will be thicker than the NP’s loins.

Cosatu march to protest against eTolls

The problem is not just the eTolls on the Gauteng freeway system (a system they want to extend throughout the country), but all the toll roads everywhere. They should all be abolished, and we should revert to the “user pays” system, where roads are funded out of the fuel tax.

It’s actually easy — next time the fuel price drops, as it recently did by 70c a litre, the government just needs to drop it by 50c a litre instead, and use the balance for the road fund. No one would notice, no one would complain. They’d be so glad of a 50c drop that they would not be agitated over the remaining 20c.

The problem with the Gauteng eTolls, of course, is that most of the money we will be paying is for the collection system, and for the tenderpreneurs’, bribes and kickbacks that went to setting it up. And it is that that is causing the government to dig in its heels.

So don’t buy eTags, not now, not ever.

And voice your objections to fax 0123093134 (if there’s a better address than that, please let me know). So even if the consultations are “a mere formality” (‘E-toll consultations a mere formality’ | ITWeb), have your say anyway.

Where to get the Government Gazettes to comment on eTolling


Tolls: Cosatu cashes in | City Press

I think that City Press are being more than a little disingenuous in this article, which appeared in last Sunday’s edition, when they imply that Cosatu is being hypocritical by objecting to toll roads while benefiting by investments in a firm engaged in road construction.

Tolls: Cosatu cashes in | City Press

Trade union federation Cosatu, an outspoken critic of toll roads, secretly benefits from a construction company involved in building new highways.

City Press can reveal that Cosatu’s investment arm, Kopano Ke Matla, has shares in Raubex, a construction company that won a tender to build one of Gauteng’s highways that are now being tolled to pay for the construction.

As far as I am aware, Cosatu has no objections, in principle, to road improvement. The point at issue is not improving the roads, but the method of paying for them.

Road construction has to be paid for, no matter who builds the roads.

For Cosatu the issue is not who builds the roads, but who owns the roads, and how they are paid for.

And the ones who are being hypocritical and confusing the issue are those in facour of tolling who keep uttering their mantra “user pays”.

Cosatu and others who object to toll roads say that roads should be paid for by a fuel tax, which is fairest, easiest to administer, and is the best possible application of the “user pays” principle. Its main disadvantage is that it doesn’t give enough opportunities for the elites to make money from kickbacks from the manufacturers of the toll-recording equipment.

Toll roads "compromise" – the worst of all possible worlds

Faced with calls from various groups, including Cosatu, representing trade unions, and Naamsa (the association of automobile manufacturers, which employs members of trade unions) and the Automobile Association to scrap toll roads in favour of a fuel levy to finance roads, the government has decided to adopt the worst features of both systems — to continue tolls, but to subidise them by means of an increased fuel levy.

That is the kind of compromise that gives “compromise” a bad name.

It also represents very muddled thinking on the part of the government, as the following shows: Lobby groups call for fuel levy as alternative to road tolling:

The government is seeking a balance between funding road infrastructure from a combination of direct payments from the National Treasury and funds generated from methods that rely on the user-pays method such as tolling, Department of Transport director-general George Mahlalela says.

How to get the best blend of these two opposing principles would be central to the outcomes of the road funding summit that is due to take place within the next two months, Mahlalela said in an interview this week.

The “opposed principles” are not like that at all. A fuel levy is the best, fairest and most easily implemented version of the “user pays” principle. “Toll roads” are an unfair, cumbersome and difficult way of implementing the principle.

If the Department of Transport cannot understand this, then it is really being run by incompetent people and needs to be overhauled.

Don’t let anyone fool you by saying that the e-tolling system is an implementatio0n of the principle of user pays. That’s just a propaganda smokescreen.

  • User Pays = Fuel Levy
  • Some Users Pay = Toll Roads

Until the 1970s South Africa’s road construction and maintenance was financed by a fuel levy. Then the National Party government of the time decided to appropriate the road fund to finance its military adventures in countries like Angola, and its surrogate operations by groups like Renamo in Mocambiue — and for that readon toll roads were introduced, to cover the deficit in the road fund.

Do we will need to destabilise Angola and Mocambique?

If not, there is no excuse for toll roads at all, and let’s go back to a road fund paid for by fuel levies.

And here are some of the people who have been calling for this:

Use fuel levy for tolls – AA

The Gauteng toll fees should be absorbed by the increase in the fuel levy, the Automobile Association said on Wednesday.

“We are convinced that despite the latest offering from government the cost to the consumer, as far as the Gauteng tolls are concerned, is going to hit home hard when commodity prices increase as well as transport costs,” said spokesperson Gary Ronald in a statement.

And from the trade unions E-tolling is ‘commodification of public services’ | ITWeb:

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) will march against the contentious e-tolling system on 7 March.

The union body adds that, during the State of the Nation address, it hopes to hear president Jacob Zuma announce that government is going to completely scrap the Gauteng e-tolling system and quash rumours that it is going to do no more than reduce the price of the tolls.

People like Julius Malema have calld for nationaluisation of wasting assets like the mines, but what they should be calling for is nationalisation of growing assets, like the transport infrastructure.

As Cosatu goes on to say E-tolling is ‘commodification of public services’ | ITWeb:

Cosatu says it will go ahead with its march. “We are utterly opposed to the commodification of more and more public services and believe that our roads are a public asset, not a commodity to create massive profits for private companies.
Click here

“E-tolling is a system of capitalism and will benefit only those that are financially healthy and not the poor.”

Vote with your wheels

Someone has suggested a protest against the new Gauteng freeway tolling system — a #votewithyourwheels campaign. Tweet and retweet #votewithyourwheels

Here’s what to do:

  • On the day tolling starts, every taxi, bus, truck and car should make for an onramp to one of the tolled freeways and stop. Block it. Have a taxi strike, bus strike, whatever.
  • In the coming municipal elections, find where candidates stand on the tolled freeways, and don’t vote for any candidate or party that supports tolling. Vote for those who oppose it.

Back in the bad old days the National Party government stole money from the Road Fund (paid for by a fuel levy) to finance its wars and destablisation in Angola, Mocambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They then introduced toll roads to cover the deficit — on some of the roads.

What’s the ANC’s excuse?

The fairest way of paying for roads is a fuel levy — the more you use the roads, the more fuel you use, and the more you pay. The new Gauteng toll system places an unneccessarily heavy burden on those who have to travel to work, whether they travel by car, bus or taxi.

Vote with your wheels – tweet and retweet #votewithyourwheels

Don’t take it lying down. At the other end of the continent, the people of Egypt are not letting the fat cats get away with it. Why should we let them get away with it here?

FF Plus – Tollgate Petition

I never imagined that the day would come when I would sympathise with any cause promoted by the far-rightwing Freedom Front Plus Party, but I do sympathise with their campaign against the new toll roads: FF Plus – Tollgate Petition.

Toll roads were introduced to South Africa by the National Party (remember them?). Roads were paid for by the Road Fund, and were funded mainly by a tax levied on fuel. The National Party nicked this money, because they wanted to use it to fund their attempts to destabilise Angola, Mocambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and other countries.

I wonder what the ANC’s excuse is?

They have simply continued with the old NP policy, with no “transformation” in sight.

The NP then privatised the busiest roads and allowed private companies to make profits from the tolls. At the same time they deregulated transport, which resulted in more and heavier vehicles using the existing roads (often to avoid the toll roads). And that too has continued. Check, for example, the road from Bapsfontein to Standerton. It is the quickest and least congested route from Pretoria to KZN, and it is in bad condition because of the number of heavy vehicles usuing it to avoid to tolled sections. With even more tolled sections it can only get worse.

I wonder what the ANC’s excuse it?

There’s certainly been no transformation there, just a continuation of the old NP policies.

The fairest and most cost-effective way of paying for roads is a fuel levy. This also uses the “user-pays” principle — the more you use the roads, the more fuel you use, and the more you pay.

But if they insist on charging 66c per kilometre, I suggest that those who have the special number plates that can be read by the toll gantries should be given a discount of R6.60 per litre on fuel. That would compensate for the cost of travelling between the toll gantries, which are about 10 km apart.

As for us, well, it will cost us about R300.00 more to go to church on a Sunday.

I’ll certainly support the FF Plus petition.

I don’t know if I’ll vote for them, though.

But I might volunteer to distribute petition forms and leaflets at taxi ranks.

It’s time to abolish toll roads, not extend them

Toll roads were introduced by the National Party regime so that they could rob the Road Fund to pay for the invasion of Angola and the destabilisation of neighbouring countries.

Part of the democratic transformation process should see the phasing out of toll roads, and the restoration of the road fund. The fairest way to pay for roads is through a tax on fuel. And in that way all roads can be maintained, and not just a few selected ones.

African Energy News Review – Poor will be most affected by N1/N2 toll road proposal

Capetonians have until 30 April to comment on the National Roads Agency’s (Sanral) controversial plans to build toll roads on the N1 and N2 freeways outside Cape Town.

The move would further increase transport costs, which are already rocketing because of significant fuel price increases.

Sanral expects to put out the project to tender with the aim of starting construction within two years if the plan is approved by Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe.

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