Joburg Expat: Harassment by South African Cops

June 15, 2011

Harassment by South African Cops

I wish that South African drivers' license requirements for foreigners would actually be broadcast to all the traffic cops out there. Or that the traffic cops would quit making up their own stories about the rules.

Noisette was driving to the airport recently to pick up two visiting teenagers who were travelling by themselves. Needless to say, it was somewhat important to be there on time. However,  just as he was driving around the bend and into airport parking at O.R. Tambo, there was a police road block. He showed his American license (as I was told by the licensing department head himself would be sufficient - in fact, you can't get a South African license as a foreigner), but the police wanted to see an international permit. Which is only necessary if your license is not in the English language. We used to have them anyway, but they expire after just one year. When the international permit wasn't forthcoming, they just went ahead and invented new requirements. In this case, they said, since they were on airport property, a passport was needed as well as a drivers' license. A passport? Huh? That is such a blatant lie, and Noisette would have been mildly amused, had he not been in a hurry to get to arrivals. But he continued to be harassed by the police for almost half an hour, threatened to be arrested and put in jail, and did he really want that? All the while exchanging frantic phone calls with me who was shooting off SMSs to Germany to see if the parents could reach their kids to let them know where to wait. He was finally let go because, of course, there was no arrest warrant whatsoever and no grounds to issue one.

To all you prospective expats out there: A valid English-language drivers' license is all that is needed to drive on South African roads. If the cops tell you otherwise, it is because they're looking for a bribe, but if you stay firm, they will let you go. However, I only have this information verbally from the Randburg licensing department as well as some other websites, and have not been able to find anything official in writing. But doing just that has now become another item on my never-shrinking list to-do list. I'll keep you posted.

18 comments :

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Oh, I have stories! In Ghana my husband used humor and jokes to get out of these bribe sessions, and there it worked for him. I had several incidents as well, that I "won" but boy, it takes figuring out how to deal with these guys.

Bing said...

TP would have just told them to arrest him. It's very hard to convince him to give a bribe. Hahahaa! Anyways, he always has a certified copy of our passports in the car.

Sine said...

Thats exactly what he did, and they finally had to capitulate since they had no grounds. In fact, I'm the one who keeps secretly hoping for the arrest and the story that would make for my blog:-) (can't wait to read some of yours Mrs Footloose!) But your hubby is definitely more organized than we are. Aren't those copies only valid for three months though?

Jozie Days said...

I had a run in with the Metro cops a couple of years ago. I had a valid SADC drivers licence and an International Permit, but as the car is in my husbands name they also wanted a copy of our Marriage Certificate, and a letter giving me permission to drive the vehicle. They also wanted a copy of my passport and permit (my husband has the work permit I only have a permit to accompany him) The copies are only valid for 3 months so it is best to go down to Douglasdale Police Station and get them done (even put a reminder in your phone diary!).

Needless to say I was given a fine for not having a valid vehicle licence (despite the fact the vehicle was not yet a South African registered vehicle! And after I had left he wrote out another fine for driving without a valid drivers licence ( I had 4 teenagers in the car who saw me produce the licence). The fine was never given to me and a couple of months later a Warrant of Arrest was sent to my home address. I went to Marlboro Testing Station and paid an admission of guilt fine to avoid being arrested. I could have gone to court to dispute the charges but I did not want to go through the ordeal! Very frustrating.

I have now learnt to always drive in the middle lane - they usually stop you in the outside lane! An I follow Pigspotter on twitter so I know where the police are!

Sine said...

Jozie Days, you are kidding! But what is a SADC lilcense? Good tip on the middle lane and Pigspotter - I just signed up as well! Thanks so much for sharing. So if you know where they are, do you just take a different route? Not always easy when you're stuck on William Nicol.

Brenda said...

Hi all
What opportunists they are!! In order to avoid future such encounters, I suggest you carry a copy of the following around with you...
www.polity.org.za/polity/govdocs/regulations/1999/roadregs05.html.

This is a chapter from the South African National Road Traffic Act, No. 93 of 1996 (You might want to copy and paste it into Word and put that as a heading above the chapter number).

Regulation 110 of this chapter refers to the validity of foreign drivers' licenses, so you might want to print just that section out.

Here's hoping none of you ever has to deal with an SA holding cell for something so ridiculous!

Jozie Days said...

Hi Sine, SADC is the acronym for Southern African Development Community. Currently SADC has a membership of 15 Member States, namely; Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

I have been known to take an alternate route home from picking up kids if I see them set up on the other side of the road!

Did you also know that once you are a permanent resident (another looooong process) you must get a South African drivers licence within one year!

PS The police seem to have almost permanently set up outside OR Tambo - just as you leave the airport. So be ready when you go to pick up visitors or get back from your trip! Otherwise you could take the beautiful Gautrain into Sandton.

Sine said...

Brenda - you are a lifesaver! I already printed the whole thing for my husband and myself and will also write another post for everyone else to share. That website was exactly what I was searching for but of course I couldn't find it, being somewhat obscure. Thank you thank you!!!

Sine said...

Jozie Days - I did know about the one year once you become a permanent resident, and I actually thought I'd get a head start and trekked to the licensing office in Randburg to just get my South African license now - but it turns out you actually can't UNLESS you are a permanent resident. So, no idea if I'll ever qualify for that, not sure how long this visa lasts and to be honest don't really want to know, I am not eager to deal with the Department of Home Affairs anytime soon...

Thanks for the OR Tambo tip, will have to be careful. I'll equip my husband with Brenda's policy copy and hope for the best. Gautrain takes too long from here but might try it someday just so I can blog about it. Oh, and another question: How do you get SMS alerts from Pigspotter sent to your phone here? Tried to set it up in my account but South Africa not an option! I just wrote a post about that as well but would love to stand corrected.

Sufi said...

Hi Sine

Today - my husband driving on a UK drivers' licence with everything except for the International Driving Permit was stopped by police in Houghton. They wanted money (it being month-end) and asked for an IDP and he told them its not a requirement, they threatened him with all sorts but he didnt budge. They then issued him with a ticket to pay a fine of R1,250 for driving without an IDP.

We want to fight this ticket before they issue a warrant of arrest - any advice how we can do this!!!

Eish you are lucky to have made out of this corrupt country with your mind and body still intact!!!

Sufi

Jozie Days said...

Please allow me to reply to Sufi as this is a subject that make my blood boil! I have called the JMP Anti Corruption Hotline and they confirmed that a fine should not have been issued. The direct phone number to call is 0114901707. The gentleman advised that they should go to the Metro Police Dept, 2 Wemer Complex, cnr Village and Loveday. The other places that he could go are Marlboro Testing Centre or the Randburg Civic Centre although Marlboro is 'having some renovations' and Randburg gave me a hard time once before. I hope that this helps and remember to carry copies of everything that Brenda listed just to befuddle the Metro Cops.
PS Now that I have my Permanent Residence I am going to get my SA licence - I am doing the learners in 2 week and then the road test as trying to convert and giving up my Zimbabwe licence (that never expires) would be too much effort! I promise to keep you updated on my progress Sine!

Sine said...

Jozie Days - thank you so much for replying so quickly to Sufi and giving such valuable information. It makes my blood boil, too. Sufi, I'd go ahead and call that number listed. Although another part of me is saying to do nothing. I had my fair share of traffic tickets outstanding at any given point in time, and always eventually paid them off. One time I was stopped and I knew I had outstanding tickets, and was sort of worried, and the cop did indeed come back to tell me that I had those tickets against my license plate number, but she didn't do anything beyond telling me that I should really get them paid. Since we've moved, we've also had an outstanding Vodacom bill that we never paid, and every week I get another email from them that tells me "final notice" before action is taken, and I just keep getting those. Granted, I'm no longer there and they can't touch me, but I doubt that much would happen were we still there. It's kind of comical to see them issuing all those final final notices but nothing every changes in them.
Still, if you can call that number and complain and get it taken care of that way, it is definitely the best approach. Good luck and keep me posted. (I'll also ask another person who's been helping me on traffic cop issues and see what he says - I'll get back with you when he responds).

I have a lot to say said...

Sufi you best contact the Justice project South Africa. They offer legal consultation on traffic matters. You can look it up on their website under JPSA services. You would need to pay them for this, as they will not provide it for free. They do a lot of great work but they get nowhere near the funding they need.Please consult with lawyer who deals in traffic law trust me it will help you in the long run.

Sine said...

Sufi - here also a link to the above: https://www.jp-sa.org/consult.asp

Sufi said...

Thank you all! I am sorry to get back here this late, I had been travelling - I have written down the recommended places to fight the ticket (yes its me fighting it not the hubby!) and will let you know what transpires.

Much appreciated
Sufi

Sine said...

Good luck Sufi, let us know how you go!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

They really need to get police corruption under control. They don't do a good enough job vetting and training new applicants. And I don't think they are probably paid enough either. Also, the higher ups in govt. provide a bad example to everybody down the line: "if it's good for the goose it is good for the gander," etc.

kundai blessings maradze said...

Jozie days, wanhu awa ngawarohwe ini ndazoneta nawo manje, so you gave up your hard earned Zim license? Oh no, this is a ridiculous country unoziwa