Winelands Toll Trap

The proposed tolling of the N1 and N2 in the Winelands has raised the ire of most residents and local government entities in the province. The City of Cape Town and SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency) seem set for another court showdown. The demand for clarity on toll-costs and socio-economic implications is not only fair; all citizens in this province should demand this information, as this project could have significant impacts on the economy and thus, the prosperity of affected areas in the Western Cape, particularly the eastern Winelands and Overberg.

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

PROJECT SCOPE: SANRAL has declared the N1 as a toll-road from Old Oak Interchange to Sandhills in the Hex River Valley and the N2 from the R300 Interchange to Bot River. Three tolls along each route are proposed. On the N1, these proposed toll plazas are at Joostenbergvlakte, the existing Huguenot Toll Plaza (where fees are proposed to be significantly raised) and Glen Heatlie between Worcester and De Doorns. On the N2, one plaza is proposed near Khayelitsha, one at Sir Lowry’s Pass and the other, at Bot River. Don’t think you’ll be able to get around the tolls, where viable alternative routes exists, like the R101 Du Toitskloof Pass, SANRAL will construct ramp-toll plazas on these exits.

They are planning some significant upgrades to the roads, so why is the Western Cape populace vexed? The anger in Gauteng over the controversial eTolls is still boiling over, yet SANRAL sees fit to set another pot to high-heat in our province. The Auditor General reports on countless billions being misspent per annum, yet SANRAL, a government parastatal, pleads poverty. Furthermore, the stark contrast in this province, where most roads are (Provincial Government – Western Cape) PGWC maintained, from the fiscus. Our infrastructure is generally well maintained, unlike numerous other provinces. The N1 and N2 westwards form the aforementioned points, where SANRAL jurisdiction ends, is in a better condition. In recent years these PGWC sections have seen resurfacing, highway lighting and the significant upgrading of numerous interchanges take place. Thus the resident logically asks, “Why can the PGWC maintain and upgrade our roads with our tax-money whilst SANRAL is unable to do so?”

Admittedly, there are bottlenecks in our infrastructure in these proposed tolled-areas: one being the N1 at the Huguenot Tunnel and two, the N2 through Somerset West and Strand. I am not against greenfields tolling. Thus, the Helderberg Bypass could be constructed without entrapping the Elgin Valley. The opening of the second Huguenot Tunnel (already bored – requires lining and equipping) is not up for debate. This sector is already user-pays and has been so since 1989; road improvements go without saying.

The economic impacts could be serious indeed. SANRAL commissions studies that investigate the economic impact of the “do nothing” or “if they toll” scenarios. This creates a bias in the analysis. No roads agency or governmental entity is entitled to “do nothing” to the infrastructure, as population, road-usage and by inference, revenue increases. Even under this potentially biased analysis, undertaken by UCT Graduate Business School, it is admitted that communities north-east of Paarl would see little cost-benefit in the short to medium-term, as traffic volumes are too light. Even under their analysis, agriculture could experience hardship, the lifeblood of these communities. Even under their analysis, the Hex River and Elgin Valleys would become entrapped to tolls, cut off from their service centre towns, major markets and neighbouring engines of economic growth. Even with this information, SANRAL has to date, made no attempt to move toll plazas to locations that would not hold these communities hostage. They have admittedly, offered Hex River Valley residents the option of toll discounts.

Furthermore, rural tolling is an even crueler pursuit, as public-transit or non-motorised transit options simply don’t exist and probably never will. This seriously disadvantages rural communities and the workforce, such as those under FairTrade’s umbrella. It restricts their freedom of movement and access to economic and service centres in the province, as mobility is made unaffordable.

Grabouw and De Doorns, communities plagued by recent civil upheaval, will be the worst affected. Whatever the reason for the recent unrest, the obvious catalysts remain lack of employment and poor local economic conditions. With spiraling fuel and transport costs, additional tolling has only one outcome for these communities on an economic and social knife-edge. Communities like Rawsonville, where we are located, have had a perennial struggle to attract tourist numbers. The toll tunnel has acted as a psychological barrier for years. Additional toll gates and fees on these routes will only exacerbate the issue. Tourists and Capetonian wine-drinkers will not only think twice before venturing out along the N1 and N2, they’ll think thrice.

Where possible, tourists and residents alike will look to the free-to-use provincial roads to escape the toll; this will severely burden these secondary routes and the provincial transport department. For areas such as the Breede River Valley, no viable alternative exists and businesses and communities will be kept entrapped and tourists, out. For a wine company constantly aiming for value-for-money, this could seriously impact on our business model of bringing products to the consumer at affordable prices.

SANRAL’s public participation process has lacked reach and transparency, where the bare legal minimum is done in consulting with communities. There’s a universal awareness of the intense public opposition to the inequitable user-pays policy. We already pay through hefty fuel-levies which rise annually, along with the spiraling cost of fuel in South Africa. Ring-fence the levy, make them provincially imposed according to local need. It’s the cheapest and most equitable form of roads funding there is, with the least risk of graft or corruption.

My suggestion if SANRAL is unable to fund their infrastructure: cede control of the roads west of Bloukrans River and Three Sisters to the Provincial Government of the Western Cape. Allow the national treasury to grant them that equitable share of SANRAL’s allocated budget for these road-sectors. It is clear our provincial administration is able to maintain the infrastructure under their jurisdiction.

By: Andres de Wet (DuToitskloof Online Content Manager)

Lowest Common Denominator Wine Legislation

Computer mock-up of Penfolds label courtesy AdelaideNow: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au

Computer mock-up of Penfolds label courtesy AdelaideNow: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au

Alcohol advertising has been prohibited in several countries in the last decade. Last month, Australian health lobbyists took matters a step further, demanding graphic health warnings on the front labels of all alcoholic beverages, from spirits and beer to even their genteel ‘lifestyle’ cousin, wine.

In AdelaideNow, prime print media for South Australia’s capital, the rhetoric went thus, “The campaign, led by a range of vocal groups including National Alliance for Action Against Alcohol, the Alcohol Policy Coalition, Vic Health and the Cancer Council of Victoria, has targeted a range of products from beer, spirits, mixers and wine in its aim to combat public health hazards resulting from risky drinking practices.”

I’m certain the Barossa and Clare valleys are in a complete tailspin about these manoeuvres in Australia, thus I find myself weighing in on the debate as their southern hemisphere cousin.

Nobody can deny that alcohol abuse is a scourge. Nobody can deny that irresponsible consumption can lead to health and social problems. Nobody can deny that anything not done in moderation is usually bad for you. Why then, the target painted on the back of the alcohol industry? Same reason why the so-called sin taxes always increase, irrespective of the budget tabled: it is an easy target for tax hikes, public ire and zealous health lobbyists.

It’s easy to label any industry, associated with the production of a non-essential product, as unnecessary, a luxury, or in the case of alcohol, downright socially destructive. Then I pose the question to all sane-minded people, going back to, anything not done in moderation is usually bad for you: Are we to have graphic warnings of hardening arteries and people unable to escape the confines of their bed-prisons on BigMac burger packaging? Are we to have graphic warnings of rotting teeth on Coca-Cola cans? Are we to have graphic pictures on sweet-packets of removed digits and dead-tissue due to diabetes? Do we need provocative warnings on mens’ magazines such as Playboy and FHM of herpes and other STD infections? With debt being the greatest issue in the Western world, should we not have warnings on credit cards?

The point is, in a healthy democracy, the common denominator determines the public need, not the lowest common denominator. In a democracy, the right of the layperson is paramount, the rights of the careless minority, secondary. When this unwritten rule is disregarded, you create a nanny-state. A de facto over-legislated and heavily policed society is created, where freedoms of the many are curtailed, because of the irresponsibility or carelessness of the few.

Would-be alcohol abusers would not be put off by a warning or even graphic imagery. Extreme abuse is an illness, an addiction, something that must be treated clinically and psychologically. Would-be abusers don’t do so, because the bottle looks attractive. They do so, because societal or personal pressures trump their own inherent education about the perils of abuse. Education is the answer; social programmes in badly affected communities are the answer, not defacing brands.

In fact, in the South African context, it is not the branded wines which cause the social ills associated with alcoholism. It is the bulk wine sold by the litre, in nondescript plastic containers. If anything, one should aim to formalise distribution and pack quantities, to curtail the misuse of the product in bulk by individuals, in addition to public education.

Wine in particular is a lifestyle product. Wine is supposed to be a romantic affair, paired with friends, family and excellent food. To degrade a millennia-old product of the vine, the nectar of the gods, to the level of a scapegoat for social ills, seems blatantly reactionary.  This is not to deny that abuse of the product can become barbaric. However, a certain type of person becomes an addict; a certain type of beverage does not an addict make.

I hate to place the wine-label debate in a religious context. At the same time, no other story can illustrate what is being said more clearly than the following: When Jesus multiplied the bread and fishes, when He turned water into wine, I doubt he intended anyone to eat two fishes and three loaves of bread in one sitting. I doubt He wanted anyone to be morbidly obese and develop heart-disease and diabetes. Just as I doubt He wanted anyone to consume three bottles of wine in one sitting. Therein lies the point, even the most righteous of things can become an evil if abused.

Everything in moderation! May sanity prevail; seeking responsible consumption and sales, public education and enlightenment, rather than a convenient scapegoat panacea for legislative zealots.