Monday, 10 April 2017

Update: 66.6% of South African Traffic Police are Corrupt

A few months ago, I made the bold claim that 100% of the traffic police here are corrupt. Based on my personal experiences at the time, that was the honest truth. To be fair though, I thought I should post an update, lest you get the impression honesty is hard to come by in South Africa. I'm pleased to report that while I was stopped two more times since then, I only encountered one more corrupt police officer, bringing my average to 66.6% corruption. Not bad.

When I'm driving, and especially in South Africa, I don't speed, I don't use my phone, and I follow all other applicable traffic rules. It's definitely not because I'm a good person. Anybody who knows me will tell you categorically that I'm not. It's just that I'm a giant wuss and don't want to see the inside of a jail cell. Not even if the cell is filled with chocolate and Betty White.

Despite following all the rules, I've still been pulled over three times (so far) by South African traffic police. I already wrote about the first time. The second time, I was driving on a very busy highway just before Christmas. They call Christmas "Silly Season" here, and it's because the highways get rather crazy, and in an effort to combat the insanity, traffic police set up roadblocks roughly every 30 metres to make sure everyone is following the rules. Or, more specifically, so that rule-breakers will offer bribes in order to continue breaking the rules. Because virtually every driver here is breaking some sort of rule (speeding, talking on their cell phones, driving a distinctly un-roadworthy vehicle, impaired driving, or any combination (or all simultaneously) of the above), the traffic police get frustrated by drivers who are following all the rules, so they try to extract a bribe anyway.

In any case, I was selected to pull over and confidently pulled out my Canadian driver's license. The officer took it without looking at it, started to walk away, glanced at it, stopped in his tracks, stared confusedly at it for several moments (much like a cow would stare at a new gate), then walked back, handed it to me and told me to have a nice day. While I'd like to believe he just let me go because I wasn't doing anything wrong, the truth is he probably just didn't know the rules regarding foreign driver's licenses, and because there were so many other police around, he assumed at least one would be honest and report him for soliciting a bribe, so he just let me go rather than taking the effort to check if the licence was, in fact, legit. So it was probably just laziness/incompetence rather than a genuine effort to do the right thing, but I'll give him a pass.

The next time was a couple of months later, and it was a smaller roadblock, so I knew this wasn't going to be easy. Not wanting to prove my internal monologue wrong, the officer skipped the "I'm going to pretend like I'm NOT corrupt" charade and went right into the whole bribery dance. After I produced my licence, she seemed to accept that it was valid. Then she asked for my traffic registration number certificate, which is an extra piece of paper the South African government makes people get before they can buy a vehicle, not because it makes any sense, but because it helpfully adds another layer of inefficiency to life here. The thing is, you only need that to BUY a car. Not to drive one. I do have one, though, because I had to buy a car here. That being said, nobody in their right mind would carry the original with them because a) it's not required by law and b) thefts are so common here that losing it is a very real possibility, and nobody wants to go through the pain of replacing it.

However, I happened to be driving my company vehicle, so I didn't need a traffic registration number at all. I informed the officer of this, but also told her I did have an electronic copy on my phone if she wanted to see it. She said by law I needed to have the original. I countered with the fact the law actually says I didn't need it. I'll save you all the details, but this went back and forth for roughly 18 days. I knew she just wanted me to offer a bribe and be done with it, and I'll give respect where respect is due- this woman had endurance. But so do I, and I had the time to kill. Eventually, she just asked how much money I had in my wallet. I told her I had none, and she asked to see. Of course I refused, and then she asked me what I had in the cooler bag on the passenger seat. This was starting to seem entirely familiar to the first time I got stopped. The only thing I had was an iced tea that I was saving for the Potato, but she asked if she could have it. I asked if I could leave once I handed it over, and she said yes, so I caved. She got an iced tea, and I got to continue about my day.

So that's 2/3 corrupt traffic cops, and one that just didn't feel like doing his job. I'll keep the tally going for as long as I'm here. If I can get below 50% corruption, I feel it'll be cause for celebration. However, I expect the more likely scenario is the police will just continue providing me with material to write about, and for that I thank them.

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