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South Africa's govt bows to pressure, cuts Johannesburg road tolls

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Cars drive under a road toll in Johannesburg December 2, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko play Cars drive under a road toll in Johannesburg December 2, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's government said on Wednesday it would cut road toll charges on highways in the economic hub of Johannesburg by 50 percent after more than a year of public pressure.

The widely unpopular electronic levies, known as e-tolls, fuelled public anger and strained relations between President Jacob Zuma's African National Congress and COSATU, the labour federation that is in an alliance with the ruling party.

"In the current form, the system places disproportionate burden on the low and middle-income households," said Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

"This new dispensation demonstrates that we are a listening and caring government."

The levies were meant to go towards repaying a $2 billion loan used to finance upgrades to part of Africa's busiest road network, where about 750,000 kilometres of roads faced a maintenance backlog of 197 billion rand.

Vehicles using the city's busy highways were tolled electronically by over-hanging gantries.

There will be no amnesty to drivers who had not been paying as they would be required to pay upon renewal of the vehicle licences, while public transport vehicles such as buses and minivan taxis would remain exempt from the charges, he said.

The national road agency, Sanral, was downgraded by rating agencies as it struggled to implement the user-pay system initiated in December, 2013.

But the system has been plagued by non-compliance and protests by civil society, including COSATU.

Ramaphosa denied the move was a ploy by the ruling party to garner favour with voters ahead of municipal elections in 2016.

"This is not about elections, it is about delivering a better life for our people," Ramaphosa said.

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