Following reports that a Randburg man was in court for “dodging e-tolls”, Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) has issued a statement asking why some traffic offenders seem to receive different treatment under the law.
Dr Stoyan Hristov Stoychev appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on 10 February in connection with “charges relating to his refusal to pay e-tolls”, the illegal altering his number plates, and the removal thereof.
However, the JPSA remarked that this case appears to be receiving more attention than those against Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko and the former deputy chief of the Tshwane Metropolitan Police Department, Ndumiso Jaca.
“While it may be true that the charges against [Stoychev] also include charges in terms of the Sanral Act, falsifying, deliberately obscuring and/or removing number plates from/on a motor vehicle is by no means a new crime and has been a criminal offence in terms of the National Road Traffic Act forever,” said JPSA chairman Howard Dembovsky.
Dembovsky said motorists who feel it is their right to falsify number plates, which results in offences they commit being unjustly attributed to the legitimate owner of a number plate, deserve no mercy from the courts.
“Similarly, motorists who simply fit completely false number plates can only be viewed as criminals wishing to evade any consequence of their own wrongdoing.”
The JPSA, though, asked why such a big deal is being made about Stoychev’s particular case when Jaca’s trial for fitting false number plates (“BALTY GP”) to his unregistered, unlicensed BMW Z4 and Harley Davidson motorcycle had not been concluded.
“That matter was reported in 2012 and is yet to be finalised in the same Pretoria Magistrate’s Court.”
It is similarly curious that no charges have been brought against Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko for allegedly illegally fitting his former number plates to a new motor vehicle he acquired.
Former spokesperson for the RTMC Ashref Ismail was also not charged for operating an unlicensed motor vehicle with number plates not applicable to the motor vehicle he acquired in 2013, the JPSA said.
“Everyone should be equal before the law, but it is quite apparent that some are more equal than others,” Dembovsky said.
The JPSA also highlighted that there are two motorists being prosecuted currently where the charges include violations of the Sanral Act and e-Road Regulations.
Dembovsky argued these charges should be viewed as ancillary charges to the primary criminal contravention of the National Road Traffic Act.
“It would appear that Sanral and others are trying to create the impression that these are ‘e-tolls prosecutions’, where in fact this is not solely the case,” said Dembovsky.
“No person can refuse to pay something for which they have not been billed in the first place and in light of the fact that someone else was billed due to the falsification of number plates, it is safe to say that Dr Stoychev was never billed and therefore could not have ‘refused to pay e-tolls’.”
According to Dembovsky, acting in a criminal manner by removing, obscuring, or falsifying number plates does not demonstrate the “civil courage” that has been talked about by those who oppose e-tolls.
“To the contrary, it demonstrates both cowardice and a willingness to act like a criminal. Just because bad examples are set by high-ranking officials who subsequently get away with it does not mean that anyone else should follow that example and expect to be similarly favoured.”