The recent terror-related incidents at SANRAL’s Central Operations Centre in Midrand should be of serious concern to all fair-minded South Africans. It shows that reckless calls for civil disobedience against the e-tolls system can quickly slide into terrorist activity aimed at inducing insecurity within the public and intimidating a state-owned entity and its employees.
While hoax bomb calls and the posting of harmless chemical substances may be a source of humour around dinner tables, it is no laughing matter for the scores of employees who had to evacuate SANRAL premises on three separate occasions. They were subjected to terror threats that traumatised them and their families.
Let’s do some straight talking here – this is no silly prank. It is a crime to endanger the lives of people through real or imaginary threats. It is a crime to violently disrupt transport infrastructure based on ideological and political grounds. Therefore, government is pleased that our investigative agencies have already arrested and charged a suspect.
Many of us will recall the anthrax attacks launched on Washington DC one week after the 9/11 tragedy in September 2001. Letters containing spores of the deadly substance were sent to senior congressional leaders, three television networks and two major publications. It caused the traumatic deaths of five innocent people who handled the envelopes in the mail system and the hospitalisation of 17 more.
Terrorist activities are criminalised under the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act. Section 13 of the Act deals specifically with hoaxes and states that “any person who, with the intention of inducing in a person anywhere in the world a false belief that a substance, thing or device is, or contains, or likely to be, or contains a noxious substance or thing or an exclusive or other lethal device” is guilty of an offense.
To its credit, responsible editorial comments in the media have condemned the terror tactics without equivocation. There is no middle road about this. You either condemn it and desist from tacitly encouraging such actions or condone it.
Not so for some groupings opposed to e-tolling, which issue generic statements condemning the incidents, but then call on the public not to over react. Tell that to the employees who were traumatized and had to suffer the indignity of being hosed down and decontaminated.
There are a number of common threads running through the campaign against e-tolling that should concern South Africans who value the democratic processes. The core is that it is open season against SANRAL and the policies of a legitimately elected government. One can not simply abuse the entity at will and threaten its employees without any regard for the consequences.
If one continues to encourage civil disobedience; show no respect for the democratic processes in parliament, and disregard the decisions by the judiciary, one should not be surprised when people resort unlawful, violent and terror activities.
Laws in our country are debated and processed through our democratic parliament. While some political parties lose the debate there, they have the option to take matters further with our courts where they feel aggrieved. But once courts have pronounced on a matter, those who proclaim to believe in the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary should not malign the same judiciary simply because it has ruled against their favour.
SANRAL is obligated to implement the mandate given to it by a democratically-elected government and enacted in legislation passed by parliament. It is discharging its legal mandate in operating the tolling system in our country.
Government, on its part, will strengthen its security systems and give all the support it can to the law enforcement agencies to investigate terror threats; apprehend the perpetrators, and expose the planners.
In the final instance, SANRAL will continue to respect the rule of law. It will abide by the decisions of the court. We expect those opposed to e-tolling to give the people of South Africa the same unequivocal assurance.
(Dr Ismail Vadi is the Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport)