JOHANNESBURG  - Thousands of protesters marched through South African cities on Wednesday to protest new toll roads and the widespread use of short-term contracts, which unions say are hurting the poor. About 10,000 people chanted “no to e-tolls” and “no to labour brokers” as they marched through Johannesburg’s city centre. Businesses along the route closed their doors as the march began to move peacefully through the city. In Cape Town, about 7,500 gathered for the protest, which South Africa’s powerful Cosatu labour federation organised in 30 other towns and cities.

Although Cosatu is a partner in the African National Congress-led government, it has taken an increasingly aggressive stance against policies it says hurts the poor in a country that has one of the world’s largest income gaps.

South Africa already has toll roads linking main cities, but the new tolls affect daily commuters across Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

“We pay for petrol, we pay for our cars and maintenance, now this,” said Johannesburg marcher Fulelo Nokwe, who commutes across the length of the sprawling city every day.

“This is our land, why pay for it? We are already paying hefty taxes,” he added.

The start of tolling in Gauteng has been delayed three times since April 2011, after companies objected that the fees would raise the cost of doing business and workers complained that their salaries were already stretched.

The government responded last month by lowering the toll rates by 40 percent to 30 cents (four US cents, three euro cents) per kilometre when the system starts on April 30.

The tolling has provoked widespread anger, but the main opposition Democratic Alliance and other critics of the system stayed out of the march, partly because Cosatu was also protesting short-term contracts brokered by temp agencies.

Many businesses rely on a practice known as labour brokering, which employs people on short-term contracts, often at lower wages than full-time staffers.

That issue has generated a more mixed response, from calls for an outright ban on temp agencies to a range of proposals for increased regulation.