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Do you also have a dodgy cop story?

I recently visited Botswana where I was driving a friend’s 4×4 for our annual trans-Kalahari trip. On the return through the Lobatse border post I was asked for a bribe, albeit indirectly.

I have done this trip about five times now with some deviation and in reverse direction. The route runs from Durban to Kimberley to the Northern Cape through the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to the KD1 area and then back through the Lobatse border post to Johannesburg then home to Durban. I highly recommend the trip and love the Kalahari region and its diverse peoples very much. However this trip had one problem.

The 4×4 had an expired licence disc. At the Kgalagadi gate, a polite, professional policeman informed me that the owner might get an expensive ticket. At the Lobatse border post on the return trip a cop called me over to point it out to me again. I told him I was aware of the problem and will inform the owner as soon as possible.

The dialogue that followed went more or less:

Ahh, this is a real problem.

I know, I’ll tell the owner he lent me a dodgy car and caused me problems at the border.

No the problem is for you.

How so?

You are the driver of the car so you get the ticket.

That’s not true the owner gets the ticket.

No, no, no, no it is you the driver who gets the ticket.

I think you are mistaken. I drove the owner’s wife’s car once with an expired disc and the cop gave her the ticket.

No you as the driver are responsible.

Ok fine then, give me the ticket.

No we can talk.

About what? Just give me the ticket so I can get on the road.

We can talk and make an arrangement. Just say something.

I have nothing to say.

We can work this out man to man.

[Loudly] I don’t want to work this out. If I am at fault give me a ticket and I will pay it when I am back in Durban.

Ssh, we can do this just say something.

I will not say anything.

Just say something. [At this point it was sounding like a bad date]

If you are looking for cash I have none I spent it in Botswana and would not give you anything even if I did.

Ssh we can come to a private arrangement, just say something,

At this point I did say something. I stormed over to a police car across the road with two other cops sitting in it.
Do either of you outrank this guy? He is asking for a bribe and I wish to report it.

Leaping out of the car they said:

Be quiet, he never asked for a bribe. We can talk about this don’t make a scene. [They must have had preternatural hearing as they were 25 feet away.]

At this stage I stormed off to the office shouting that I wish to speak top the station commander or someone in charge. He came out and I shouted:

This cop asked me for a bribe …

And it goes on like this for some time with the commanding officer assuring me it was a simple misunderstanding. He asked me if the cop used the word “bribe”. When I said no he asked then how do I know he wanted a bribe? My words were, “I’m a doctor, I’m not stupid” and I repeated what the cop had said as above. They also refused to give me the officer’s name or ID so I could report it further.

At this stage the owner came in who had been following in a second vehicle and asked if he could help. The officer in charge then told us we could go. I was then made to wait 10 minutes while the bribe-seeking policeman took my passport and driver’s licence away to be photocopied for some obscure reason. When he finally returned them to me he was quite smug and told me I should be careful. We left the border fuming and angry but without a ticket at least.

And here is the crux of the problem. Who do we report this to? The whole event is based on my word against his and he has the backing of the entire police force sitting at the border.

The police always seem loath to police themselves. What stolen goods and illegal things are simply run through that border for a small amount of rand? What is to be done about this type of behaviour? Should I call the Hawks? Special Assignment?

The whole event has left a bad taste in my mouth (once again) about policing in South Africa.

When we are faced with corrupt officials at a government department such as Home Affairs or the vehicle registration offices it may annoy you, but when it is the police force it is downright scary.

I was travelling in convoy with three vehicles and 14 people. Had I been by myself I would have calmly and politely refused to pay the bribe. The problem would be that if I was by myself they could have stopped me for hours, maybe even hurt me if I yelled at them. Corrupt police are terrifying. The police are who we are supposed to go to with problems and to report crimes. When they are the criminals then we are stuck with the crime and without recourse.

Who else out there has similar stories of corrupt police? All of us? Most of us?

Author

  • Michael Francis

    I have returned to South Africa. I now teach Economic History and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I am happy to be back after a couple years away. I had been teaching anthropology at a Canadian University, but Africa called and I returned.