Exclusive Books Hyde Park was packed like a Vietnamese scooter last week for the launch of The E-Tolls Saga: A Journey from CEO to Civil Activist by Wayne Duvenage and Angelique Serrao.
Eyewitness News investigative journalist Alex Eliseev led the discussion between Duvenage, the chairperson of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), and Serrao, investigations editor at The Star.
Eliseev kicked off the discussion by asking Duvenage which was easier, waking up a slumbering civil society and raising money or writing a book and launching it in front of an audience? Duvenage said that the biggest challenge has been dealing with corporate apathy, adding that in the face of trying to raise society, writing the book was easy.
Duvenage told the story of how it all began, from resigning as chief executive of Avis to becoming the leader of, as Eliseev put it in an article for the Daily Maverick three years ago, “one of the greatest tax revolts in South Africa’s history”.
“By nature I’m a reluctant activist, but it wasn’t difficult to make the transition,” Duvenage said. “It’s been tough but I don’t regret it at all.”
Serrao explained how the e-toll story became one she just couldn’t drop. She started investigating the issue of Sanral’s tolling tariffs back in 2011 and 2012 and found that “every time I wrote a story the reaction was astronomical”.
“That spurred me on. The more I interrogated, the more I thought this doesn’t sound right,” she said, adding that writing the book became a natural transition for her.
Duvenage praised the energy of his team and the people who have stood behind Outa. “We had great people on this journey,” he said. “The more we went down this road the more it felt right. It was right to challenge, to take it on.” He gave credit to Mark Heywood, the executive director of Section 27, for teaching him how to be an activist. Heywood’s advice to Duvenage right at the beginning was: “You get on the train and you stay on it.”
Duvenage didn’t think it would be difficult to get corporate South Africa behind him. “We thought it would be easy; we’d put the appeal out there and money would fall into our coffers.” What he encountered instead was an “absolute fear of being caught out supporting something government wouldn’t approve of”.
“Government doesn’t like its critics,” he said, adding that there are brave corporate organisations out there who did fund Outa.
“The book is about encapsulating all these moments we’ve forgotten about,” Duvenage said. Serrao described The E-Tolls Saga as a multi-layered book that tells a personal story while focusing on business and political elements, a story of how ordinary South Africans can encourage each other to stand up against injustice. Duvenage added that The E-Toll Saga is not all “doom and gloom”, but a positive story of how we can move forward together. Serrao agreed, saying that the book is not just about “one person’s journey or a team’s journey but also your journey”. “If you want to live in a democracy you have to take part in it,” she said.
“Journalists in general work hand-in-hand with all sectors of society,” Serrao said. “It’s our job to dig, our job to question.”
Duvenage said in conclusion that “active citizenry will get government to step up and pay attention”. “Outa will become a bigger entity but we can only be helped by public funding,” he said. The E-Toll Saga is “a thank you to the citizens that have stood their ground”.
The evening ended with a book signing, as well as networking and photo opportunities with the authors. Ali Gule designed the placard in the photograph above, which was put on display throughout the evening and will be auctioned off soon in support of the campaign against e-tolls. Gule can be contacted at email@example.com for more information about the auction.
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Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) live tweeted from the event using #livebooks:
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