South Africa’s government insisted Thursday it would go ahead with plans to set highway tolls, despite threats of more protests a day after tens of thousands of people marched against the scheme.
“Government has made a decision and government is going to proceed to implement that decision,” minister in the presidency Collins Chabane told journalists.
Protesters led by the powerful Cosatu labour body marched through South African cities on Wednesday calling on the government to scrap plans to toll major roads around Johannesburg from next month.
Wednesday’s nationwide protest was just the latest sign of tensions within the ANC-led government.
Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi warned that more protests could follow, threatening to shut down the highways of South Africa’s economic heartland.
“We have come here to fire the first warning shot. And in our chamber, there is still a lot of bullets,” he told a crowd of some 45,000 in Johannesburg, one of 32 cities and towns where marches took place.
“If they say they will introduce this, we will take everybody we see here and even more and put them in the highways of Johannesburg,” he said. “We will make this system unworkable.”
Cosatu backed President Jacob Zuma’s rise to power, and along with the Communist Party is a partner in the ANC government.
But it has increasingly accused the ANC of ignoring the poor in a country that has one of the world’s largest income gaps.
The government says the fees are needed to pay for loans used to upgrade highways.
It has already dropped the proposed toll rates by 40 percent and agreed to a fees cap of 550 rands ($73, 55 euros) a month for motorists.
Private mini-bus taxis, used by most commuters in the absence of a comprehensive public transport system, are exempt from the tolls.