Joburg Expat: Have You Brought Anything for us Today?

November 19, 2010

Have You Brought Anything for us Today?

So I'm innocently driving along William Nicol the other day, my car full of 4th graders going on a field trip, when I run into a major road block. I'm third in line of our little convoy going to visit a dairy farm, and of course the two cars in front of me are waved through, but sadly I'm not. I'm a little nervous, since of late I've left my American drivers' license at home. I'm still not entirely sure what kind of drivers' license I actually need, as it seems impossible to obtain a South African one. But I also don't want to lose my Kansas license, which is why I'm only keeping a copy on me, the original safely at home. However, I do keep my international drivers' license on me, and I've also dug up an ancient German one (German licenses don't expire - or at least they didn't back sometime in the Middle Ages when I got this one).

All this is going through my head when the cop walks up to my window.

I hand him the German license, which he eyes suspiciously, wanting to know if it's an international one. I'm sure I could have said yes, but just to humor him I also hand him the international one. Mind you, the two don't match whatsoever, since I obtained the international license in the U.S., but he doesn't seem to notice. So far so good. Then he asks whether I have my traffic register number. I remember it well: This is the thing all foreigners have to apply for, but you can only get one if you have a permanent visa, which is why I actually couldn't apply for it, which is why this car ended up in Noisette's name. But of course I don't carry this number on me, and he doesn't press further. I'm making a mental note to put a copy of it in the car. But I'm not off the hook. Do you know why I've stopped you, he wants to know. I'm still being polite, which is why I don't state the obvious, that this is a freaking roadblock where they stop whoever they please! No, I say humbly, I have no idea. Well, I've stopped you, he informs me, because your car has a radar jammer, which is illegal. I silently curse the car salesman from Benoni (whom you might remember from my car purchase odyssey) who was so very proud of said radar jammer, while I shoot up my eyebrows in surprise. You don't say, what is this thing, I want to know. He makes me step out of the car and walk around, and there, lo and behold, are two fat boxy things glued to my bumper, front and back. My outrage to discover this is very real, as this actually IS news to me. I'm well aware of the jammer IN the car, which I've made use of quite frequently, but I had no idea there were such telltale signs on the OUTSIDE of my car.

The cop goes on and on about my grave offense, and how he could arrest me, and how that would really make for a bad day for me, wouldn't it? I can now see where this is leading. Noisette's cop (whom you'll remember he shared the entire contents of his wallet with) used the same line. I agree that yes, it would not be nice to be arrested, especially in front of all these kids, but of course he makes no move in that direction. He doesn't even have a ticket book or anything. I continue to be outraged that such a contraption could have been snuck onto me without my knowledge, and offer to take it off then and there. I even tell him that I've already gotten a traffic ticket for speeding (sadly this is actually true), which must be proof that I'm not using my jammer at all. I'm also making another mental note that I should keep a copy of that ticket in my car for future reference.

Now he starts asking me where I work, and whether I have my own company. When I say no to either, he wants to know where my husband works. I'm really quite slow on the uptake, and this cop is clearly despairing, but honestly I'm worried about my field trip and all those kids in my car, and I just want to get going. I don't get all these covert hints. Surprisingly, he lets me get back into the car, and then, through the open window, asks me: "Have you brought anything for us today? Coffee, or anything else?" At this point, I see it all clearly. His hopes of stopping a big and expensive car and cashing in very nicely are now reduced to maybe getting a small tip, and the indignity of actually having to ask for it. But I have no intention of bribing a police officer in front of 50 of his colleagues, so I smile, apologize for the lack of foresight about the coffee, and drive off.

I don't quite get it. Either my offense was actually not a reason for arrest, or if it is, taking me in to a police station would have been such an inconvenience (and forced him to give up his lucrative business of stopping cars) that he chose not to pursue it when I called his bluff. I have to say I was quite pleased to be let off the hook (a feat that has eluded me on all the occasions I was ever stopped by a cop in the U.S.), but it makes me mad that there is such overt corruption in this country. The fact that this guy was very comfortable asking for money in front of half the JMPD force (I'm telling you, it was a HUGE road block) goes to show that this is the norm, not the exception. All of my South African friends are equally outraged and refuse to pay bribes, but it must happen often enough to keep the system going. So, all you expats out there: Do NOT pay bribes. Chances are very good you'll be let go without having to pay anything, and you'll be doing this country a service.

4 comments :

Krisstoffel said...

I was pulled over at a roadblock in Balito, at about 1am, after a rather wine-soaked meal (to my shame, I know). After threatening to lock me up, and laughing at my half humorous, half terrified comments about being a virgin, they asked me if I had any beer for them. Seriously, one of the guys stuck his head in my passenger window, saw a crate of empty beer bottles that I had in the back (which I'd meant to get replenished at a bottle store earlier - I was on holiday, after all) and wanted to know if I had any to spare. I was so relieved when they let me go I slipped the sergeant R100, which he happily took. It made my night, but the implications for SA's future are not good.

Sine said...

Wow, sounds like you were in quite a pickle and in those situations one does wish for more "flexible" policemen, however as you say, if people keep paying then the problem will not go away. I have to say, I'm mystified. I was once let go after coming home from Mme Zingara and having had some wine, driving my husband's car without bringing my license. He didn't even bother to threaten me, just let me go... I was very happy too.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Good thing you kept your head. If enough people refused to pay bribes it would surely help to weaken this type of corruption. I've heard that this type of thing is common throughout Africa. From what I've been told by other travelers, always refuse to pay unless you are in one of the more dictatorial or authoritarian countries (Angola, Zimbabwe, etc.).

Maybe I misunderstood, but I believe that TRN's are required for anybody in SA to purchase a car, not just foreigners.

Sine said...

Yes, it comes back to what you said about firing workers who steal. If everyone was outraged and every company and gov't agency fired workers who were caught stealing, then surely it would end. We all perpetuate the system by feeding the beast.

I think you misunderstood. I'm pretty sure TRNs are only needed by foreigners. It replaces the SA ID book that South Africans must show when purchasing a car. When we first asked around about TRNs when learning about them, no local friends and co-workers had ever heard of a TRN.