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Zuma responds to critics over controversial ‘Malawi’ e-toll comments

South African president last month came under fire for saying Gauteng motorists must not “think like Africans in Africa.”

Africa has poor roads infrastructure and this needs to be corrected, South African President Jacob Zuma has said in response to criticism about controversial comments he made last month about Gauteng’s electronic tolling (e-toll) highway project.

In October, Zuma said Gauteng motorists must not “think like Africans in Africa” regarding the South African province’s e-toll system, which is planned to kick in on 3 December to charge road users for driving along highways between the likes of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) took out a R20 billion loan to finance the ‘Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project’, and to pay back the debt, Sanral has adopted the e-toll system.

Anger and opposition from the likes of civilians, the Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) have shone a negative spotlight on e-tolls.

Zuma, though, sparked even international anger regarding e-tolls when speaking at Wits University in Johannesburg last month.

During a talk he said, "We can't think like Africans, in Africa, generally. We are in Johannesburg, this is Johannesburg. It's not some national road in Malawi."

Subsequently reports emerged that Malawi demanded answers from South Africa’s government on Zuma’s comments.

At first the South African Presidency alleged the media had distorted Zuma’s statements. But owing to an audio recording being made public of his comments, the Presidency back-tracked, and retracted and apologised.

But on Friday, responding to questions from South African opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA), the South African Press Association (Sapa) has reported that Zuma said that “the light-hearted comments were made in the spirit of encouraging Gauteng road users to respond positively to the need to pay for the extensive road freeway network built as part of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project electronic tolling system.”

"It is a matter of fact that Africa has a poor roads infrastructure and that this needs to be corrected. That is our primary focus," he said.

"My view is that we should all focus on making these projects of building a good road and rail network in Africa to succeed," Zuma added.

He reportedly further noted that no correspondence had been received from Malawi regarding his controversial comments last month.

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