Highway toll takes toll on ruling SAfrican party

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) - After years of delay, protests and legal action, a tolling system finally came into force Tuesday on a large part of the freeway network of South Africa's richest province, Gauteng, amid threats by opponents to continue the fight against the tolls which they warn could cost the ruling African National Congress votes in next year's elections.

One of the biggest critics of the e-tolling system, the ANC's tripartite alliance partner, trade union federation COSATU, referred to the introduction of the tolls as a "Black Tuesday for the poor and the working class," saying that it would go down in history as a turning point for the democratic state and government.

"It will represent the day on which our government refused to listen to the views of the people and the poor. They have demonstrated their stubbornness and unwillingness to cooperate with workers and the working class. It represents a clear demonstration of cadres who have been power drunk and believe that they can do as they so wish," the trade union federation said.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, which brought several court actions in a failed bid to halt the introduction of the tolling system, have also vowed to continue fighting to have it scrapped. Church leaders have also opposed it.

COSATU said it and "all other working class formations" opposed to the e-tolling would continue to fight for the scrapping of the highway levy with "campaigns on the freeways, hunger strikes, sit-ins, lunch-hour demonstrations, stay-aways and civil disobedience by not buying e-tags and also not paying for the e-tolls."

Motorists can obtain "e-tags," or electronic tags for their vehicles that register when they use the highways. A series of gantries with sensors built over the highways that ring and slice through Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, both in Gauteng province, register motorists' use of the roads.

There appears to be a growing disenchantment with the ANC, which was one of the leaders in the struggle against apartheid but has been facing criticism even within its own ranks lately, particularly from some of its trade unionist members. The dominant ruling alliance member has been criticized for, among other things, failing to stem corruption in government and among its own rank and file, for wasteful expenditure and failing to make good on delivery of basic services like water, electricity and education to the country's majority poor. However eroded its public support, an ANC victory on the national level still seems assured in the 2014 elections.

In one of the most recent scandals involving the ANC, the government has been accused of spending about $1.8 million of taxpayers' money to build homes for family members of President Jacob Zuma at his private homestead at Nkandla in the Kwazulu-Natal province.

The ANC has also been criticized for the Aug. 16, 2012, killings by police of striking platinum miners at Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. Some allege that Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, a close confidant of Zuma, may have given the go ahead for the police action against the miners on that day.

Wayne Duvenage of OUTA charged that the highway tolling system is over-priced and flawed. He believed that the government's lack of consultation on key areas of the system, such as pricing, means a wide sector of the public will boycott paying the tolls.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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