The shakedown

31 03 2009

“Do we understand each other?” the cop asked.
“Yes, I can understand you” I replied.
He asked the same question again, and I replied with the same answer.
He was not asking if I could understand English, he was asking if I was interested in paying a bribe. I had been stopped on the R512 that goes east across Jo’burg from the Krugersdorp highway to the western bypass or ring road.

“We need to search your car” he said, calling over a woman cop to the passenger door. He was impatient or making out that he was. The passenger door had been deadlocked so needed opening from the outside but I was not getting out to help. They eventually got it open and the woman started to rifle about in the shopping on the floor.

“What’s this?”
“An air filter”.
The male came back onto my side.
“Show me your driver’s licence”.
I did.
“But this is not a SADCC licence”.
“I know, but it is a valid Zimbabwe licence” (I happen to know that they are a different format).
“It must be a SADCC licence”.
“Well it is a Zimbabwe licence and it’s the one we are issued so if you have a problem with that take it up with the Zimbabwe government”.
This continued a bit further but I was not going to budge.
“What is this?” the woman cop asked, now rooting into the first aid kit behind the seat.
“A first aid kit” – it had the relevant writing on the bag.
“What is that?” the male asked.
“Zimbabwe dollars”.
“Oh, so you are rich then” – another hint (there were lots of zeros on them).
“Do you want some?” I asked. “Not even any good as toilet paper” but they were losing interest and I was soon on the go again. It was just your average JMPD (Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department) shakedown.

It happened again at the South African side of the border at Beit Bridge. This time the “facilitator” actually knew me from my Hortico days (he knew the names of my co-workers there). I was a bit more receptive this time as I had something to gain from this; I definitely did NOT want to be paying duty on the camera that I’d bought in Jo’burg. I was mildly surprised that I’d been approached by a Zimbabwean on the SA side as they are not usually that forward but I was assured that “everybody knows me” and sure enough nobody even blinked that there were now 3 on a gate pass for one (it seemed that we’d picked up and “assistant”). Sure enough I was through the notoriously congested Zimbabwe side and out into the Beitbridge dust and heat in all of 15 minutes. A bit poorer for sure too but, in my books at least, worth it. I guess I am a real African!

Evening sky looking north

Evening sky looking north

This is the view from my verandah last night. Notice all the city lights (just joking, there aren’t any).