It may sound like a tall order, but Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula believes the one month he has been given to resolve a matter that has been under discussion for the past eight years is enough time to crack it.
President Cyril Ramaphosa set him an August deadline to resolve the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (e-tolls) crisis.
It is a task that Ramaphosa, as deputy president in the Zuma administration, could not resolve.
Mbalula told the media on Saturday that a solution must be found. Ramaphosa gave Mbalula, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Gauteng Premier David Makhura a strict instruction to work together to find a solution to the problem and report back to him at the end of August.
“In August, we are closing this matter, we will take it to the president,” Mbalula said. “After we have spoken to all South Africans and told them about what we think and how we should cooperate, we will then inform our people what we have decided.
“This is not a matter that we should be discussing year after year; we will finish it in August as the president has instructed us.
“E-tolls are an important area where we can cooperate with our people. We know that the Gauteng residents are opposed to the gantries that have been installed and, therefore, we reached a level where we must talk as government to see how we can resolve this matter.
“It doesn’t start with me, it was started by Dr Blade Nzimande. I am carrying on where he left off.”
Ramaphosa had to intervene in the war of words that broke out on Twitter between Mboweni and Makhura over whether e-tolls must be paid. Mboweni said Gauteng drivers must pay; Makhura disagreed and reiterated his statement that “e-tolls had no future in Gauteng”.
Mboweni came under attack from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Gauteng. The federation said the minister undermined not just Makhura on social media, but disrespected Gauteng people. Cosatu Gauteng chairperson Amos Monyela accused Mboweni of continuing to undermine and disregard ANC resolutions and internal ANC processes, which would collapse Ramaphosa’s administration.
He said Cosatu was “fast running out of patience” with the minister and his “arrogance and stupid utterances” over e-tolls. “He has proven himself to [be] nothing but an arrogant, petty, self-obsessed, narcissistic, bullying, petulant, incompetent and unhinged moron,” Monyela said.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa should start taking us seriously and kick this mini Gupta out of his administration if he wants to be taken seriously,” Monyela said, urging for the e-toll boycott to continue. Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said: “The president says while the user-pay principle remains the policy of government, e-tolls in the present form have presented challenges.”
She said Ramaphosa found the exchange between Mboweni and Makhura “unbecoming”, “extremely unfortunate” and “deeply regrettable”.
“The government has got appropriate platforms, including Cabinet and other coordinating mechanisms, where different views on such matters may be aired and ultimately reconciled.
“Social media is not such a platform.
“The president trusts that the ongoing engagements currently under way in government … will produce workable outcomes,” Diko said.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse has advocated that the e-tolls’ R20 billion bill be paid for by adding 10 cents to the fuel levy.
They were believed to have cost R60 million monthly. The road upgrades were meant to ease congestion on Gauteng highways.