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Friday / 24 May 2024
HomeFeaturesPetrol prices, e-tolls, and mafias – The biggest transport issues heading into South Africa’s 2024 elections

Petrol prices, e-tolls, and mafias – The biggest transport issues heading into South Africa’s 2024 elections

South Africa’s next national elections are right around the corner, and it’s no secret that the country is facing a lot of problems, many of which will become key talking points in the final days leading up to voting season.

As the nation’s many political parties continue to appeal to the masses in the run-up to May 29th, the plight of millions of South African road users should not be forgotten, as motorists are currently struggling with several major issues, from sky-high petrol prices to mismanaged government tolling systems and mafia groups disrupting infrastructure.

Petrol prices

While discussions and headlines about the ever-rising cost of fuel may seem to be a perennial issue with no end in sight, there’s no getting around the fact that South Africans are paying an astronomical R25.12 per litre for petrol and R22.60 per litre for diesel as of April 2024.

Even with a modest 40-litre tank, such as the one you would find on a VW Polo, that works out to a bill of just over R1,000 for a single top-up.

Considering that many households need to refuel multiple times a month to drive to work, take the kids to school, and attend to any other daily activities, the cost of travel easily adds several thousand rands to a family’s monthly expenses even before things like insurance and maintenance are taken into account, which is not sustainable in a country where the average salary is just R26,894 per month before tax.

Furthermore, diesel prices have a knock-on effect on the whole economy as the cost of transporting goods and running generators to mitigate load-shedding is resulting in rapidly increasing shelf prices for food and other items, contributing to the worsening cost-of-living crisis.

Admittedly, the cost of fuel is not wholly the fault of the national government.

The international trading price of oil is a major contributor and has been on the rise due to various geopolitical events, including the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.

However, the US dollar/rand exchange rate is another major factor and the value of the rand has been deteriorating for years with a current value of R19.00/$1.00 as of the time of writing, making it more expensive to purchase and import petroleum.

Many industry participants as well as political parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) have called on government to review the current fuel pricing structure in an effort to reduce fuel prices as it includes outdated and administrative elements that are inflating these prices.

However, despite an announcement in October 2022 by the Department of Mineral Resources that it would reconsider certain aspects of how domestic fuel costs are calculated, it has not yet taken any steps in this regard.

South Africa also has six different taxes on fuel that account for up to 31% of the price felt by consumers at the pump, which is another area that could be addressed by an incoming administration to try and alleviate the financial burden on the public.

E-tolls

The rise and fall of Gauteng’s infamous electronic toll collection gantries, commonly referred to as e-tolls, has been a long and complicated process that has drawn backlash from the public and groups like the Organization Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) since its inception.

In October 2022, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced that e-tolls would be shut down, but the gantries are still charging motorists to this day, following another year and a half of delays and mixed messages.

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) extended its e-tolls collection contract multiple times in 2023 despite the system allegedly being on its way out, and there has been a back-and-forth argument amongst stakeholders as to what to do with motorists who have and have not paid their debts.

In January 2023, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi stated that compliant motorists would be refundedbut he has since backtracked on this statement and said that no decision regarding repayments to compliant motorists has been taken just yet.

Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage commented on the matter in February 2024 saying, “I don’t think that [e-toll refunds] are going to happen, I think Panyaza Lesufi was out of line when he made that comment a year ago, and he’s been trying to dodge it ever since.”

A more realistic outcome is that boycotting motorists will be called upon to pay what they owe, but this is unsurprisingly not a popular idea amongst the 90% of road users who have refused to pay.

Sanral has declared that the e-toll gantries will officially be shut down just before midnight on Thursday 11 April 2024, but given the province’s track record of keeping to its deadlines, Gauteng’s motorists will have to wait and see if this will be adhered to.

The national government is responsible for 70% of the failed tolling scheme’s debt while the provincial government is on the hook for the remaining 30%, and how an incoming administration will manage this debt situation is sure to be on the minds of everyone voting in May.

Mafias in public projects

One of the biggest hindrances to South Africa’s efforts at improving the lives of its citizens is the prevalence of mafia-style criminal organizations embedding themselves in public projects.

This is a nationwide problem affecting everything from power generation to municipal service deliveries, but road improvement programmes are increasingly becoming a target as well due to the large sums set aside to fund them.

This is most prevalent in the Western Cape where there have been a growing number of stories regarding so-called “construction mafias” attempting to extort infrastructure projects through threats and acts of intimidation and violence.

Attempts to expand Cape Town’s MyCiti bus service have led to shootouts where security guards have been injured, and other projects intended to expand or improve the existing road networks have been delayed after the contractor’s workers were forced off the site by armed thugs.

The result is that improvements to South Africa’s roads that would greatly benefit motorists and public transport users alike are not being completed in a timely manner, if at all, and the public is tired of it.

Addressing the pervasiveness of criminal organizations in the country’s institutions should therefore be a top priority for any incoming administration, both at a provincial and national level.

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