GAUTENG Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said on Monday she had not mentioned e-tolls in her state of the province address since it was no longer an issue.
"We are going ahead with e-tolling as government," Ms Mokonyane said at a media briefing after her speech.
Ahead of Ms Mokonyane’s address, members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), clad in red shirts, gathered next to the Gauteng provincial legislature to protest against the implementation of e-tolls in the province.
The unpopular open road tolling system could be launched before the end of next month.
The e-tolls bill is expected to be debated in Parliament on March 5, and implemented within 14 days from that date.
Ms Mokonyane said the decision about e-tolls "might have been unpopular, but it was for the good of the country".
She said citizens had a constitutionally protected right to protest. However, Ms Mokonyane warned, South Africa’s sovereign credit rating would have been adversely affected if e-tolling had been stopped.
"We have borrowed and used people’s money," she said.
Gauteng is the most populous and richest province in South Africa, contributing about 35% to the gross domestic product.
Gauteng’s struggling health department was one of the key features in Ms Mokonyane’s speech. She said the province’s public health system was well on its way to recovery, and there were pockets of excellence that should be celebrated and further enhanced.
Ms Mokonyane said efforts to turn around the struggling department, including bringing in high-level expertise and effective leadership, were yielding positive results. "We will continue turning the corner and yielding tangible results," Ms Mokonyane said.
The department had been struggling with paying suppliers, which almost led to a collapse of public health services in Gauteng due to, among other factors, shortages of medical equipment.
There was concern the department was underfunded, and efforts were being made — together with the Treasury — to seek more funds.
The department has also said it will ask the South African Revenue Service to audit overtime claims submitted by doctors in some hospitals, amid concern that the overtime system was being abused.
Ms Mokonyane said yesterday that as part of the fight against corruption, the tightening of management controls in key areas had helped to identify and act against collusion with private-sector suppliers, fraudulent overtime claims and the illegal sale of land.
She said the province’s success in education was a result of partnership with unions and other stakeholders. Last year Gauteng took the top spot in the country with an 83.9% matric pass rate overall.
On public transport, she said the province’s public transport plan sought "to address operations and infrastructure to achieve an integrated, safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable multimodal and multinodal public transport system".
Across the road, Godfrey Tshabalala, a Gauteng resident and Cosatu member, carried his protest placard high. It read: "NO to open road tolling systems."