Thursday, 22 December 2016

100% of the Traffic Police Here are Corrupt... least according to the 1 interaction I've had. So I guess to make broad statements based on such a limited sample size is unfair. According to most accounts, both online and from local South Africans, the number is no higher than 98.7%.

I'll get into the traffic here in an upcoming post, but that's a topic all on its own. Picture a high-school play. All the actors are terrible and the play itself seems to have been created when a writer ingested a shockingly awful script and then farted out the partially digested remains, leaving the putrid stench of a new play clinging to the stage, the props, and the mortified audience, which is mostly comprised of long-suffering extended relatives of the evening's "stars." And there's a scene where the characters are in a car. And the driver of that car not only never once so much as glances at the road, but also moves the steering wheel maniacally back and forth, as if doing so wouldn't cause the immediate demise of his/her passengers and anyone else unfortunate enough to be on the road. THAT is what the drivers are like in South Africa. But like I said, that's another post entirely.

So I was driving along aimlessly, lost, as usual, because addresses are an abstract concept in South Africa and seem to be constructed solely to mess with people (for example, my address is 105 X Crescent. But it's stand 286. And 286 is the number on the house. But the ADDRESS is 105. Why? Because screw you, logic, that's why).

I turned a corner, and BOOM. Traffic stop. These things are everywhere. There will be 5-20 traffic cops fearlessly running onto the road or highway, playing Frogger with oncoming vehicles to randomly pull people over. In this particular case, I KNEW I was doing nothing wrong. I wasn't speeding. I had my seatbelt on. Both hands were firmly on the steering wheel, safely away from my phone, which I wasn't using for anything.

I pulled over, confident this would be a brief encounter. But what I didn't count on was South Africa's ability to make time screech to a halt. The officer asked to see my license, which I confidently produced. While it's a Canadian driver's license, the law here clearly states that foreign licenses are valid as long as they haven't expired and are written in English. Mine was both, so no problem.

The officer took one look and said, "I'm afraid you have a problem. This licence is no good here." I replied that yes, it was, and I'd be happy to direct him to the appropriate material to prove it. In reply, he told me he would have no choice but to slap me with a hefty fine. I knew he was either mistaken or bluffing, so I asked him to please write me the ticket and let me be on my way. He just stared at me for about 10 seconds, as if the conversation wasn't over, but then he disappeared behind me, only to reappear several minutes later and say "I'm sorry to tell you that not having a South African license is much more serious than I thought. I'm going to need to take you to jail." As much as the idea of being locked away in a foreign jail packed with muggers, murderers and worse wasn't appealing, I KNEW there was no way he could do that. So I turned off my engine and said, "OK, let's go to the police station."

Avi holding a South African traffic cop. 

He didn't like this at all, and I was really starting to suspect that this wasn't just a case of him not knowing the law. He told me to wait in my vehicle and walked away again, leaving me wondering how this was going to play out. Was I going to mysteriously "disappear," leaving my wife a widow and my children fatherless? If that was the case, would my life insurance policy be enough to provide for my family? What would Vicki's new husband be like? While he might be very handsome and wealthy, I quickly determined that he would have a crippling case of sleep flatulence. Not so perfect NOW, are you, replacement husband? Mercifully, before my mind could entirely descend down the rabbit hole, the cop came back and informed me he wouldn't have to take me to jail after all, but the ticket really was quite expensive. Didn't I have anything for him?

There it was. Tired of waiting for me to offer a bribe, he finally dropped a not so subtle hint. I always keep a cooler bag filled with drinks with me because shockingly enough, it gets bloody hot here, and when I assured the officer I had no money for him, he asked if I at least had a cold drink for him. Because he'd already wasted about 45 minutes of my time, I wasn't inclined to give him ANYTHING, but also because it was clear he had no qualms about wasting even more of my day, I caved. I passed him a Sprite Zero, which he happily took and then said "How about 50 bucks (they refer to the currency here, the Rand, as bucks. Right now, one Canadian dollar is worth about 10 rand) for lunch?"

We were clearly done here, so I just shook my head at him, put my car in gear, and drove away. And he made no move to stop me. I admit I felt a little dirty offering a bribe, albeit in the form of a paltry Sprite Zero, but I definitely see why many of my friends here simply offer R100 right away, just so they can continue with their day.

However, I think I'll just make sure I keep my cooler bag well stocked.


  1. Ha! A traffic police blog post by a new SA expat blogger. I feel so lucky to have found you - or rather, for you to have found me! I'm proud of you for not giving in to the bribe. I don't consider food or drink a bribe. I may have offered gum to a cop once. But so funny that you went through the same motions - the threat of a ticket, then the threat of jail, the cold sweat about it and second thoughts, then being let go. I do hope that "the materials that prove my license is ok" were whatever you copied from my blog post to to that effect, where I tell you to carry a copy of the SA Road Traffic act in your glove compartment:)

    1. Hi Sine! Yep, it didn't take me long to experience the joys of the South African traffic police! I haven't actually copied the traffic regulations from your blog yet- but thanks for the reminder- going to do that right now!