Book Excerpt: The Promise of Justice
John Clarke is a social worker who takes the first obligation of his profession seriously: to challenge social injustice on the basis of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Having worked since 2006 with the amaDiba rural residents of the Wild Coast to successfully assert their constitutional rights in opposing the award of mining rights to a foreign company for the Xolobeni Mineral Sands, and construction of the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road, he has recently been contracted by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance to serve as media spokesperson, (and watch OUTA Chair Wayne Duvenage’s back). From its establishment in March 2012, OUTA has raised R11.2-million to fund a court challenge over the e-tolling in Gauteng. This is an excerpt from Clarke’s e-book, The Promise of Justice:
Chapter 8. Courtrooms (Round Two).
‘We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.’ ― Dietrich Bonheoffer
On 5 August, 2008 a blogger wrote in response to a newspaper report headlined “Disgraceful plan to mine beaches on Wild Coast”; ‘This is a shocker. The dunes of the Wild Coast, one of this country’s great unspoilt wilderness areas, are to be turned into mine dumps in a short-sighted, cynical move that will damage tourism and sustainable incomes for generations.’
It helped that the outspoken blogger was one of South Africa’s most respected and universally liked journalists, Ray Hartley, who was part of the media junket who had accompanied Valli Moosa and his fellow ANC politicians on the Wild Coast walk in 2000. It helped that he went on to amplify the voice of one of South Africa’s most outspoken and universally feared (within the mining industry at least) my friend Richard Spoor, by adding (when few other editors were prepared to give Richard print space or airtime); ‘Richard Spoor, a South African human rights lawyer argues that, “mining the Pondoland Wild Coast is the moral, cultural and aesthetic equivalent of quarrying Ayers Rock for granite, or the Great Barrier Reef for calcium carbonate”.’
One could hardly wish for a better pair to conduct a ‘good-cop/bad-cop’ interrogation of a suspect. Ray is good right down to his toenails. Richard? ‘Bulldog lawyer’ is how radio journalist David O’Sullivan describes him. It also helped that Richard, Ray and I were among the 143 comrades ‘not-in-arms’ who had all refused to obey further call-ups to the SADF in August 1988.
Richard, Ray and I were oblivious of each other at the time, living in different cities and pursuing different careers. Ray was still at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, studying to become a journalist (but impressively listed as ‘SRC vice-president’ in the End Conscription Campaign communiqué).
Richard was in Johannesburg doing his articles, pretending to be a corporate lawyer for the mining bosses, while leaking information to the National Union of Mineworkers. I was well into my social work career, working for the international humanitarian aid organisation, World Vision, in KwaZulu-Natal, married and, with Sharon, about to welcome our son into the world.
Pertinent to this narrative, one of my colleagues in World Vision happened to be Rev. Amos Ndebele, the brother of Sbu Ndebele, formerly ANC Premier of Kwa-Zulu Natal, before President Zuma made him a cabinet minister in 2009.
I had met Sbu in 1985, shortly after he had been released from prison after serving a prison sentence. He had been arrested by the apartheid police while crossing the Swaziland border to join Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the ANC).
Sbu had been impressed with my stand to refuse conscription to the SADF. It was that bond of solidarity, in seeking the things that make for peace, that explains why some twenty years later, I felt confident enough renew our connection. We had not seen each other since I had left World Vision in 1988 to pursue post-graduate studies.
Encouraged by Valli Moosa, I went to see Ray. Even though Ray was a stranger to me, I reasoned that since we had both taken a stand on principle back in 1988, he would be a reasonably sure prospect for helping Richard, Nkomba and me tell our tale. With prejudices among the rank and file of Sunday Times sub-editors against ‘draft dodgers’ having duly given way to fond embrace with the appointment of Ray as editor, all it took to grant me the privilege of the lead article in the Features section was a visit to see him and Fred Khumalo, the Features editor. Even Denis Beckett was envious when he saw the result.
I wasn’t looking for any special favours or indulgence. I tried to explain to Ray that, as passionate as I was about the specifics of the issue, I believed that it was well within the scope of newsworthiness for South Africa’s leading national weekend newspaper to give prominent coverage.
Why should the average reader of The Sunday Times who sits in Gauteng, bother about ‘a backward native tribe’ from one the poorest parts of the country, whose King and Queen are griping about a mine and freeway development that would at least help them at least enter into the 20th if not the 21st century? I reasoned that it would bother them if the underlying concern of the Royal Family could be presented to them as fundamentally the same as the cause of the massive hangover that each Gauteng Sunday Times reader wakes up with every Sunday morning, even though they may not have touched a drink the night before. The ‘hangover’ is of course metaphorical, and refers to the sober reality that was creeping up on them. They were realising that somebody was going to now have to pay for the indulgence in the Mega-development madness of the first decade of the 21st century.
The symbolic bookends of the wasted decade are the Arms Deal at the start and the 2010 Fifa World Cup at the end. Although they had enjoyed the party, neither the international armaments industry nor Sepp Blatter’s Fifa were paying the bill. We (i.e. those who keep the economy of Gauteng and South Africa turning) were.
Still too abstract perhaps for the Sunday Times?
Not if it could be shown to be concrete; as concrete as the impressive concrete flyover’s and interchanges that make up the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project; as concrete as the intricate bridge crossing where the Gautrain has to tunnel under the N3 near Marlboro station; as concrete as the 42 e-tolling gantries that SANRAL have erected around the freeway network. The names of the 42 e-tolling gantries are seductively named after various indigenous bird species of South Africa. I was told by sources in the know that the construction of the Marlboro Gautrain/N3 intersection was perilously delayed while top officials squabbled over a claim by one that the impressive work of civil engineering should bear his name, since he had made it possible.
To open the window on the absurdities of the Wild Coast mega development madness, I reasoned that all I had to do was get The Sunday Times readers to see with fresh eyes what was happening in their own front yard. Then, as the data passed through their occipital cortices, to plant a seed of doubt in their collective corpus colossi to apprehend the fuzzy cloud of unknowing with a defining shape to awaken new thoughts and insights, so that every time they drove through SANRAL’s e-tolling gantries named ‘Mossie (sparrow), Indlazi (speckled mouse bird), Troupant (roller), Ivuzi (African darter), Flamingo, Ihobe (Cape turtle-dove), Tarentaal (guinea fowl), Blouvalk (black-shouldered kite), Owl and
Pelican, they might say ‘this e-tolling is for the birds’. Perhaps the more ‘outa-raged’, having read the Rime of the Ancient Mariner would stop their car at each gantry in turn and re-inscribe the labels with but one common name: ‘Albatross’.
Even though His Story now records that the Mpondo Royal Family’s troubles started in 2004, with the outspoken opposition voiced by the Queen to the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road, during hearing in Court 4D on 21st February 2012 into the Mpondo Kingship dispute, nowhere did SANRAL feature in the papers before the court. In the newspapers sold on street corners, we had managed to get the media to keep questioning the links between the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road and the Xolobeni mining venture. However, to get journalists to also examine the links between those ambitions and the troubles experienced by the Mpondo Traditional leaders who questioned the real agendas behind the schemes was a harder task.
However, when the Court rose in Courtroom 4D again, eight weeks later on 30 April 2012, SANRAL was the feature. Same courtroom, different case. Or was it?
The connection between the two cases did not formally feature in the sworn statements of the two sets of court papers, but in the real world the connection between Wayne Duvenage and the Mpondo Royal Family had already been well forged in mutual solidarity. Six months previously, Wayne had helped launch the, “Too Great a Toll” campaign, to help us raise funds to take SANRAL and the Government to court to oppose the approval of the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road. The campaign had focused on the production and sale of a beautifully photographed 2012 calendar, with each month featuring a Wild Coast scene, together with a picture and quote from 12 different local personalities. One of these was Queen Sigcau, with her classic rhetorical question, “where in the world has a toll road ever developed people?”
With Avis sponsorship and Wayne’s personal commitment and support, the campaign was a great success. The least I could do in return for Wayne’s help was to turn up to support him as I had done for the King and Queen in what was by then an all too familiar courtroom, with not-so-happy memories. We still had some calendars left and since the market for 2012 calendars was contracting apace with the advance of the days of that year, the public gallery, replete with journalists from every medium and shade (none of whom had found it interesting to come to the court case two months earlier), presented a captive audience to dispose of them. The beautiful pictures of Wild Coast scenes offered an enticing visual contrast to the drably in-venerable courtroom. They were passed willingly down each row. Unfortunately, they ran out before the pile reached Nazir Alli, seated on the opposite side of the court, which I had hoped he would accept as a peace token.
For the sake of readers not familiar with the issues, a brief visit to www.outa.co.za and www.sanral.org.za websites will give ample background from the opposing perspectives. This YouTube film provides a crisp summary of OUTA’s argument http://youtu.be/4hNYrcU5Hh4. Somewhere in the SANRAL website readers will also find a document that explains that part of its mandate is to, ‘harness the efficiencies of the private sector’ by means of Public Private Partnerships to ensure the construction of roads in fulfilment of its mandate from the Department of Transport to serve all the citizens of South Africa impartially, without imposing unwarranted expense on taxpayers. While Nazir Alli claimed that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme (GFIP) was a shining example of a successful Public Private Partnership, done under severe time constraints to meet the demands of hosting the FIFA World Cup, Wayne Duvenage questioned why e-tolling was about to commence to collect revenues to now finance the hugely costly world class road infrastructure?
With the experience of having kept Avis ahead of its competitors by sound business management and cost control, Wayne’s interrogation of SANRAL’s published numbers showed that the cost of the sophisticated hi-tech revenue collection system made absolutely no sense, on the criterion of efficiency. To simply raise the fuel levy by 9c per litre seemed much more efficient than the high-tech e-tolling method, from Wayne’s (and the average motorist’s) point of view. Others suspected that certain other criteria had been dominant in the decision making process – criteria that had also influenced the still-unresolved and controversial decision by the Government to buy jet fighters, helicopters, frigates and other military equipment that General Magnus Malan would have eagerly welcomed when Ray, Richard, me and the other 140 conscientious objectors were proving uncooperative.
It had not escaped the notice of some journalists, notably the veteran newsman, Chris Gibbons, that the electronics used in the e-toll gantries had been supplied by one of the companies that had supplied the electronics for the Gripen Hawk fighter jets. Gibbons had examined the career path of one of the arms deal company executives Mr Chris Dover and discerned a pattern, which begged a question. The elusive Mr Dover had worked for SAAB Aerospace, one of the companies accused of paying bribes to secure a contract to supply 26 Gripen jets as part of the arms deal. Gibbons had done some probing and discovered that Dover was now employed by Kapsch Trafficom, a sister company to SAAB Aerospace, which was the 85% shareholder in the Electronic Tolling Company (ETC Pty Ltd), contracted by SANRAL for electronic systems now installed in the gantries. Thus Kapsch Trafficom was a beneficiary of the e-tolling revenues. In June 2013 it and announced to shareholders that they stood to earn R650 million per annum from the deal. This hugely disproportionate benefit to foreign shareholders was one of the major bones of contention brought by OUTA against SANRAL.
On 3 May, 2012 Gibbons concluded his article in The Daily Maverick,
Remember that the Gripen was rejected by the SA Air force as far back as 1997. It was not fit for purpose and too expensive. Yet we went ahead anyway and bought 26. The reasons why are very apparent. As you drive along roads like the N1 and N3 around Johannesburg and Pretoria and pass beneath those fancy white toll gantries, you might ask yourself if each one is, in fact, a mini-Gripen
But surely a pious Christian pacifist like me should welcome swords being beaten into ploughshares? Indeed, but not if the foreign sword manufacturer is simply seeking to increase the fortune he has made from swords by making another fortune from the exploitative sale of ploughshares.
Judge Prinsloo worked throughout the public holiday of 27 April, 2012 to be able to hand down an urgent judgment granting OUTA’s application for an interdict, pending a full judicial review. The outcome put a smile on my face to erase the worried frown that the court case of two months prior had etched on my brow. The outcome put tears of joy in Wayne’s eyes. It was a huge victory and catapulted him into national prominence as a courageous business leader ready to take on the Government to question what he perceived to be a grossly inefficient revenue collection system.
While Wayne Duvenage, well qualified to assess efficiencies as the CEO of Avis Rentacar – the market leader in the car hire industry – was proving a major thorn in the right rump of Government, Zwelinzima Vavi, the General Secretary of Cosatu, was proving a major thorn in the left rump. Cosatu, South Africa’s largest labour federation and partner with the ANC and SACP in the ruling alliance, were also at severe odds with the Government over e-tolling, vowing to take to the streets.
The person feeling the discomfort most acutely was my old friend, Minister Sbu Ndebele, the minister of transport, with whom I had been in regular, patient contact over the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road issues.
Shortly before this contest, we had received notice from Minister Ndebele that the Ministry of Transport, which was named together with SANRAL and the Minister of Environment as a respondent in the application to set aside the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road authorisation, had decided not to oppose our application and to abide by the court’s decision. I interpreted this as a clear indication that Sbu Ndebele and his deputy, Jeremy Cronin, were going to leave Nazir Alli to fight his own battles.
This view was given further credence when, in a bizarre 11th hour agreement forged between the alliance partners (while the court was still in session and the respective advocates slogged things out before Judge Prinsloo), Minister Ndebele announced that an agreement had been reached between members of the Tripartite Alliance to delay the switch-on by two months. The message seeped through the Twitter-verse into the court. Nazir Alli hurriedly exited the courtroom to take a call. He returned to offer the Sunday Times’ lens man the perfect shot to grace my article when it appeared eight days later.
The above background explains why, on the Sunday following Nazir Alli’s spectacular defeat in court and on the streets, Ray Hartley didn’t have to risk criticism for giving top prominence to an article about the otherwise provincial concerns of the Wild Coast toll road and mining controversies. Given the SANRAL connection between the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road and the GFIP e-tolling controversies, my article in the May 8th edition of The Sunday Times was in fact all about what the average Sunday Times reader was most bothered about: the switching on of the gantries and the commencement of SANRAL’s e-tolling revenue collection.
On other pages of The Sunday Times the global media story of the time was the first centenary commemoration of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. This gave me some further ‘sizzle to the sausage’. My suggested working title was “Titanic Troubles for Nazir Alli”. Ray commended me for the opening paragraph and gave me the thumbs up.
‘The Gauteng e-tolling saga has become a disaster of titanic proportions for SANRAL CEO Mr. Nazir Alli. But some lessons may yet be salvaged if we go back in history to when things started going wrong for him. Ironically it was a place famous for its shipwrecks, the Wild Coast.’
Alas, when it came to print, his subs watered down my titanic metaphor to fit within the tight constraints of newspaper, and gave it a new handle ‘The Forgotten Toll Road.’
To flavour it with further relevance, I had spiced it with two other elements. The previous week’s Feature lead had been authored by Jeremy Cronin, riding one of my consciousness.
My first draft also let one of my high horses out for a gallop, the ethical blind spots among institutional leaders. The subs wisely made me put that high horse back in the stable, and to keep the hobbyhorse reined in a bit, severed the explicit connection with Jeremy Cronin’s previous reflection. Now in this version, freed of the tight constraint of an 1800 word newspaper op-ed, I indulge the reader with my original text, and allow the high horse and hobbyhorse some exercise.
A century after the sinking of the supposedly unsinkable Titanic, Mr. Alli has, with the e-tolling system, steered us into unsafe waters at high speed with overweening faith in technology. The scramble for lifeboats has begun. Will Mr. Alli finally do the right thing and tell us the truth?
The late management guru Russell Ackoff instructs: “It is better to do the right thing wrong, than to keep doing the wrong thing right. For if we do the right thing wrong and learn from it we become righter. But if we continue to do the wrong thing right we become wronger.”
The riddle is explained by examining the e-tolling saga.
To be fair Mr. Alli’s job is ‘below decks in the engine room’. The ‘wrongness’ began with the assumptions made during the ‘design’ of the vessel, and the ‘route planning’ that launched SANRAL on its present course. The extraordinary sequence of events that unfolded in the final week of April has not only shown the folly of e-tolling. It has dispelled the mirage in transport policy created by two immiscible ideological currents within the Tripartite Alliance.
Thursday afternoon: arguments put by OUTA’s advocates in the North Gauteng High Court reveal the outline of a looming iceberg ahead. Much scurrying back and forth of occupants of the ‘deckchairs’ in the public gallery. ANC and Cosatu (where was the SACP?) suddenly throw the ‘engines’ into reverse, effectively trapping highly paid government advocates below decks, their entire case submerged by rising waters of public OUTArage.
Friday. Freedom Day: Judge Prinsloo finds himself doing what another Judge was doing 18 years ago. Applying judicial discretion to calm massive storms that imperil the smooth sailing toward democratic freedom.
Saturday: Judge Prinsloo rules to allow the ‘passengers’ (and their lawyers) to assume de facto command of the vessel. If OUTA does not run outa steam (money to pay their lawyers) this will become de jure too.
Sunday: The most exquisite irony of all. The SACP finally appears. The Sunday Times features a lead article by Deputy Minister of Transport, Jeremy Cronin, headlined, “How History Haunts Us”!
Jokes aside, Jeremy really did help me understand how, “the past continues to distort our future”. Although he said nothing about e-tolling, there are some obvious lessons from history to be salvaged amid the wreckage of the Gauteng e-tolling disaster.
It was on 23 May 2004 that things started going wrong for Mr. Alli. That was the date that he ignored a letter Bishop Geoff Davies had written to him warning, “If you consulted the public, you would find there is much we could do together. Your present course of action is only leading to increased and highly disturbing conflict.”
In 1999, Mr. Alli received an “unsolicited proposal” from an entity known as the Wild Coast Consortium (WCC) offering to realign the N2 by means of a short cut along the
Pondoland Wild Coast and upgrade the N2 between Durban and East London, in return for a 30-year tolling concession. But the WCC worked out that the treasury would still need to invest approximately one third into the R4.8-billion budget (now escalated to approximately R11-billion) to bring it within reach.
The “Green Bishop” felt it was simply the wrong way to go and decidedly the wrong thing to do. He argued that the shortcut would make the mining of the lucrative Xolobeni heavy mineral deposits feasible, threaten the Pondoland Centre of Endemism, and destroy a rare stretch of God’s good earth. In his view the proposal could never be redeemed by ‘doing things right’ through mitigation measures. It was simply wrong: another misguided instance of the State trying to solve big problems with big solutions.
They met to try and find a compromise. Mr. Alli said that the purpose of the road was to alleviate desperate poverty by affording access for marginalized and vulnerable rural residents into the mainstream of the South African economy. Bishop Davies questioned why it had to be a tolled road when the treasury had already committed some R3 billion to pay for the massive bridges to span the deep coastal gorges that define the Wild Coast. From his experience as pastor of the Anglican flock in the area he knew what their priorities were. He had lost one of his best priests Rev. Hlwatika Madoda, killed in a car accident on a treacherous stretch of neglected R61 near Flagstaff. “Why not invest that money in upgrading the existing infrastructure?”
Faced with such a gaping flaw in the developmental rationale of the scheme, Mr. Alli lost his cool, stubbornly insisting there could be no highway but his way. When he calmed down he offered to improve the existing road infrastructure if Bishop Davies withdrew his objections. This was like offering bread to the hungry on condition that the rich could continue to indulge themselves with cake. Only a bridge of titanic proportions could span their respective positions. No deal.
Mr. Alli continued his aggressive media campaign to try to counter opposition to his scheme.
He adamantly maintained that the massive scheme would help solve the problem of poverty, that the particular route favoured by SANRAL was the only technically feasible and financially affordable option, and that the proximity with the Xolobeni mineral sands venture, which by then had moved firmly into the prospecting stage, was purely coincidental.
It was a massive setback to Mr. Alli when Minister van Schalkwyk set aside the environmental authorization. The fatal flaw was the “lack of independence” of the Environmental Consultants, Bohlweki and Associates. The late Mr. Rufus Maruma, proprietor of Bohlweki and Associates who had done the EIA report, was also chairman of the board of Stewart Scott International, one of the five companies in the Consortium. However, this conflict of interests did not kill the scheme. Minister van Schalkwyk allowed Mr. Alli a second chance to ‘do things right’. But when the Wild Coast Consortium disappeared from public view and Mr. Alli suddenly included SANRAL as “scheme developer”, suspicion mounted as to how ‘unsolicited’ the proposal really was.
Bishop Davies asked me to intervene in my professional capacity as a social worker to see if anything could be done to influence SANRAL toward an alternative alignment of the route, away from the environmentally sensitive areas and crucially away from the titanium rich Xolobeni Mineral Sands.
Mr. Alli agreed to meet me. He rejected any compromise with Bishop Davies on either realigning the route or forsaking tolling as a funding model. I asked if rumours that tolling was envisaged on urban roads around Gauteng were true. “Yes, but to talk about toll roads is
misleading” he said, “it’s about the ‘user pay principle.’” It was the ‘right thing’ and to ‘do it right’ “intelligent transport management systems” (i.e. e-tolling) would be most efficient.
There was no transparency as to exactly who the user pays, and how much the private contractors would get.
Unconvinced, I then applied for a copy of the Development Agreement struck between SANRAL and the WCC. Mr. Alli refused because of the potential harm it might cause to the “commercial or financial interests of a third party”.
But what about the interests of rural residents who would be displaced by the road? That question had to be answered by the rural residents, not Mr. Alli. I embarked on a six-year ‘ground-truthing’ investigation to find out.
Suffice to say I found nothing to justify spending billions on impressive large span bridges required by the short cut that substantiates the case for any long-term ‘national interest’ being served. Neither did I find any evidence whatsoever to give credence to Mr. Alli’s claim that the N2 short cut would be an effective means of alleviating the poverty of local residents who are likely to be displaced.
What I did find were rumours and suspicions that certain politicians and senior officials had allowed their personal interests to conflict with their public duty. It became abundantly clear that the main beneficiaries of the N2 short cut would be the shareholders and directors of the mining rights applicants, Australian listed venture capital outfit MRC Ltd and their BEE partner Xolco.
I learned that the new road was ‘mission critical’ to the success of the mining venture. Mr. Alli insists that the mining venture only emerged in 2002, “five years after the N2 Wild Coast short cut was conceived of in 1997”. In fact 2002 was the year that MRC publicly announced that the DTI-controlled SA Export Development Fund had approved an R18 million loan as seed funding for MRC to develop a prospectus for investors in the venture capital market. Mark Caruso, CEO of MRC Ltd, personally told me in 2007 when we spoke, that he had first been invited to the Xolobeni Area by nameless government officials in 1996, (a year before the N2 Wild Coast Toll road scheme had been conceived), with a view to developing a mineral sands mining operation. He undertook to raise foreign capital for both the mining at the Xolobeni Mineral Sands venture and the beneficiation thereof in a new smelter to be constructed in East London. In return, Government firstly assured him that full mining rights would be duly awarded. Secondly, that the necessary road infrastructure to truck the concentrate from Xolobeni to East London by the shortest and flattest route possible (which so happens to be SANRAL’s preferred route) would be provided. Thirdly, that seed funding would be arranged.
The mining rights were awarded, but revoked after local residents successfully appealed. The N2 was ultimately approved, but faces a similar possible fate when the North Gauteng High Court rules on their application for it to be set aside. The similarity to the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance’s legal arguments is no coincidence. Their respective legal teams have been comparing notes.
So far the only promise the South African Government has kept was to lend MRC R18 million. Mr. Caruso and his investors are not impressed. MRC’s share price has been in the doldrums for years.
Comrade Jeremy, it is not apartheid that “masks the real history we need to undo”. It is a much more recent history.
Indeed there is a lesson to be learned from 1893 when President Paul Kruger angered the uitlanders digging for gold by erecting tollgates on the seven major entrances into the
Johannesburg gold fields. The diggers complained that these were punitive taxes to provide revenue for the near bankrupt Zuid Afrikaanse Republic, not to maintain the roads. Seven years later it was war.
Indeed there is a lesson to be learned from when P.W. Botha’s cabinet plundered the Fuel Levy Fund to finance the SADF’s illegal occupation of Namibia and the war in Angola. It is good that the ruling party and Cosatu suddenly suspended the e-tolling plans on Thursday afternoon of 26 April, 2012. It would have been better if the ANC had more searchingly de-militarized our society by again ring-fencing the fuel levy for designated road construction and maintenance, when they won the election on 27 April, 1994.
But the really haunting historical ‘ghosts’ only took up residence after President Nelson Mandela retired.
Why did Mr. Alli ignore Bishop Davies’ prophetic warning about “increased and disturbing conflict” in May 2004? Had he done so, the Wild Coast rural residents and OUTA would not have to raise money for costly court action.
Why was the Treasury not more forthcoming to explain the contradictions in the N2 Wild Coast funding plan? Had they done so perhaps Mr. Pravin Gordhan would not be now frantically rushing around to rearrange the proverbial deckchairs.
Why was The Sunday Times and other media so generous with page space and air time to broadcast SANRAL’s propaganda instead of helping me and Bishop Davies investigate who the user would have been paying, and for what? Had they done so maybe there would have been more transparency with respect to the e-tolling deal!
Even in its attenuated form, “The Forgotten Toll Road” will be remembered in the Clarke household, (not known for calm and predictable routines at the best of times) for sending us into higher orbit.
Anxious that Nazir Alli would retaliate, I was half expecting a call from his lawyers. Instead I received an email from a former Chief Financial Officer of SANRAL, Ms Catherine Smith who wrote this email.
I read with great interest your article “The forgotten toll road” in yesterday’s Sunday Times.
I served as CFO for SANRAL from 2000 to 2003 and in fact it was primarily as a result of my consternation regarding the proposed funding for the Wild Coast toll road and the way in which I believed the Board of SANRAL was being manipulated to accept the proposal that led me to resign from the organisation. Your article has vindicated the concerns that I had, but also suggests that what I was aware of was only the tip of the iceberg.
The current Gauteng e-tolling debacle also raises many concerns, not only the issue of levying a toll and how much that toll should be; not only about Alli and his desperate tactics to make the albatross fly, but about the procurement and approval processes in State-owned entities. How can we have come so far and spent so much on a system that is obviously inappropriate for the South African application? What abject failure of common sense has brought us to this point?
It is irrefutable that many board members of State-owned entities are seriously challenged to grasp the salient issues that they deal with, but how could they miss an issue as obvious as, “how are we going to collect the money?” or “how much is it going to cost to run this system and who will be paying for that?” or even “how are we going to ensure compliance?” At least I will not be responsible for credit control!
If you feel that I might be able to assist you in any way please let me know.
The adrenalin pumping, we meet immediately to share information. We laughed at unintended mixing of metaphors.
Mindful of what had happened to the King and Queen, my first concern was for Ms Smith’s own well-being and protection, and cautioned her that her offer of help could be risky. She assured me that the passage of time, and prudent career choices had meant that she was no longer vulnerable or susceptible to the intimidation and manipulation that she had once endured from Nazir Alli. Nearly a decade had passed since she had left SANRAL, in desperation after a very unhappy tenure. Nazir Alli had made her working life a misery. The parting of ways came after he had deliberately side-lined her when she had voiced misgivings about his proposal to allocate some of SANRAL’s allocation of its annual treasury budget to meeting some of the capital costs of what was supposed to be a tolling concession project, the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road.
Why had Nazir Alli been so eager to help the ‘unsolicited bidders’, the N2 WCC, with what had effectively amounted to a massive state subsidy to bring the costly scheme within commercial reach?
The information helped me piece together the bits of what was becoming an increasingly well-defined picture, and reward for more than a decade of patient effort. Even without the aid of the picture on the box a jigsaw puzzle can be completed. However, it requires concentrated attention, intuition and a long period of time. After more than a decade the pieces were now falling into place.
I now understood why Nazir Alli had lost his composure when Cormac Cullinan had innocently asked if SANRAL had actually engaged local Mpondo residents regarding their priorities if offered vast sums of public money for road infrastructure. In the light of what Catherine Smith had revealed, Alli’s mysteriously angry response back in 2004 was a mystery no more. After conferring with Cormac and Geoff we decided we had enough to report to Minister Sbu Ndebele, so that he as Minister of Transport, could do what public and political accountability dictated.
Next I conferred with a senior staff member in the Office of the Public Protector who gave me further useful corroborating information and guidance on how to proceed.
‘Politics is the art of the possible’ goes the cliché. We reasoned that with the information we now had to contribute, it was now possible for Minister Ndebele to do the right thing, and to do it right. He could emerge politically very strong.
Even more exciting was the thought of an out of court settlement between OUTA and the Government.
Wayne Duvenage called me to say that if Minister Sbu Ndebele, whom he had never met, was open to finding a non-adversarial solution over the e-tolling controversy, he (Wayne) wouldn’t hesitate to drop everything else to prioritise such negotiations. I fantasised that Wayne might even be offered the job of CEO of SANRAL, and that the court case over the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road would give way to what logic and common sense dictated: the upgrading of existing infrastructure to benefit the growth of eco-tourism and long term jobs.
Sbu was equally open to such possibilities when we spoke. He had seen the Sunday Times article. Thanks to Ray’s sound editorial judgment, I was no longer just a lone voice crying in the wilderness of the Wild Coast. I explained to Sbu that the article had attracted further disclosures from a former executive of SANRAL. He was even more eager to turn things away from the proverbial ‘war war’ to ‘jaw jaw’.
“Sbu, I would advise you not to try and raise the Titanic. Rather, let’s focus on the other party to the collision, which is still very much afloat. The iceberg.”
He got the joke.
Next came the announcement on 7th May 2012, that Nazir Alli had tendered his resignation, prompting Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven to say ‘Cosatu hopes this will mean the end of the e-tolling project’.
Before giving a blow-by-blow account of the next round, we need to pause and switch channels again to His Story. Back in Pondoland, Queen Sigcau was increasingly anxious. We hadn’t at that stage heard if our application for leave to appeal had been granted. It was back on the road to see the queen.
Main Photo: Cartoonist Zapiro’s take on the e-tolls – Zapiro
Take Two: A map of The Eastern Cape and the proposed toll-road
Threesome: The opposition to the proposed toll-road in the Eastern Cape has mobilised communities in the area