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To Bribe or Not

15 January 2013, 17:15

The article on ‘IPID: Motorists must report corrupt cops’ (News24 2013-01-15) was indeed food for thought and my thoughts went back to three real life incidents regarding bribing of or by cops.

The practice of traffic bribes in South Africa has become so common that it is to a certain extent not seen as such a big thing. In other circles, it is seen as of endemic proportions. In most cases, the finger is pointing to the Metro Police and in some cases also the SA Police Service, as they are also responsible for traffic law enforcement.

However, as they say in the property fraternity, ‘there must be a willing buyer and a willing seller’. This is also applicable to traffic bribes: ‘For every willing cop to accept or ask for a bribe, there must be a willing motorist willing to go for the bribe, or even asks for one!’

The blame for this social monster can therefore not be placed solely at the door of the Metro Police or SA Police Service. The public at large are much to blame too.

The problem in South Africa is that a bribe is always a cheaper option than the actual fine. Who, in his right mind will say no to rather pay R300 than R3 000 for the same offence?

Believe me, there are indeed people who despise traffic bribery.

The following is three actual events on how to deal with the Metro Police, or, how not to deal with them, depending on your outlook on life and corruption and bribery.

These three events occurred between 2005 and 2009, and all three involved three officials stationed at a correctional facility on the East Rand.

Although it is actual events, the names of those involved have been changed to protect them.

Story #1: Not good to drive under the influence

Marcus is a manager. It is a tradition for all managers to come together every Friday afternoon after work  at the managers’ pub and lounge in the residential area for a quick drink or two and to reflect on the past week and to prepare for the week to come. But, as time went on, the drinks became more and the time for reflection and planning became less.

Usually, there are some snacks or even a finger lunch to enjoy with the drink or two or multiple drinks as time marched on. On one specific Friday afternoon the arrangements went astray and when the tired managers arrived for the drink or two there were no snacks or food of any kind arranged. But, managers are managers because they are able to deal with any situation or emergency and the solution for this slight hiccup was actually easy - just drink more beer and after about ten or twelve you would equal at least a loaf of bread!

Marcus did not waste time - he was very hunger and within an hour or so, he consumed beers equivalent to a loaf of bread and then he started to drink what he normally drinks - brandy and coke. By seven that evening, after consuming another loaf of bread, he was still hunger and there and then he decided to drive down to the nearest mall, which is in Springs, for some real food. He was not a fan of this bottled bread and in spite of colleagues warning him that after about two dozen beers and at least a half bottle of brandy, he was not fit to drive, he was too clever by that time to take any advice from anyone.

From the Correctional Centre’s residential area to the mall is about eight kilometers and as he was too clever to take the back roads; he took the main road, King’s Road. Everything went well until he reached the last robot before turning into the mall. He drove right into a Metro Police roadblock. When the Metro police officer who flagged him down, asked if he had something to drink and how much, he knew he was in trouble. He was honest and gave the exact amount of liquor he consumed in about three hours’ time.

He police officer just gave one loud wolf’s whistle and explained to him in that case he was to be arrested immediately, and after a medical examination to determine the exact blood-alcohol level, he was to be locked up for the night and weekend and first thing on Monday he would appear in court and his license could be suspended and a fine of about R3 000 could be imposed.

Marcus’ brain was working overtime and then he asked the officer, “Can we talk about it?”

The officer was a keen talker and immediately agreed to some serious talking. Fortunately for Marcus the officer was not greedy; all he wanted was a mere R300. Marcus grabbed the lifeline with both hands but did not have that kind of cash on hand. No problem, the officer took his driver’s license and off Marcus went to the mall to draw the money, and yes, buy himself some food, and a 2 litre coke for the kind officer and his colleagues who were sacrificing their families on a Friday night to ensure our roads are safe.

After handing over the coke and ‘blood’ money, he took his driver’s license and was on his way back to the prison - still as drunk as a lord but fortunately still as a free man.

The aftermath? That Monday the shame took hold of him and he confided in me, that is how I have knowledge of this incident.

Although he promised that never in his life would he ever bribe a traffic officer again, I could just smile - what would you do if you have to choose between a bribe of R300 and a fine of R3 000?

Story #2:A Stop Sign is There to Stop At

Steve is junior official, and has about twenty years of service as an artisan. I was his direct supervisor and this happened to him.

One day he was taking the back roads to Brakpan and just before you reach, the Far East Rand Hospital there is a four-way stop street. As usual, he stopped at the stop street and after making sure there was no traffic he continued but just after the intersection, a lonely Metro Police officer flagged him down and informed him that he did not stop and the fine would be R500. Steve was shocked and a heated argument ensued between the two, but you cannot win against a Metro Police officer. At last Steve gave up and informed the officer he must write the ticket. Then the officer said: “we can talk about it”.

Steve could not believe his ears, started to laugh, and just reiterated that he should write the ticket. A very unhappy officer wrote the ticket.

Steve did not pay the fine but waited patiently for the court date to arrive. He took a day’s leave to talk in court. When it was his turn before the magistrate, the police officer was not there and the case was postponed. When the postponed date arrived, Steve took another day’s leave and again waited patiently to be called. Again, the same story, the officer was not present. The case was again postponed.

When that postponed date arrived, Steve yet again took a day’s leave and yet again, the officer was not present. The case was subsequently thrown out and Steve walked out of the court a ‘free’ man.

Later on I discussed Steve’s ordeal with him and the moral of his story was that whether he did stop at that stop street or not, it was a matter of principle for him not to ask whether ‘they could talk’. Although the three days’ leave he had to take add up to more money he lost than the fine he received or the bribe he could pay, he stood by his principles - not to succumb to any act of bribery.

My respect for Steve climbed a few notches!

Story #3: Wear Your Seat-belt

Mathobs and I were big friends, in spite of the fact that I was also his direct supervisor.

One Sunday afternoon after lunch, he decided to drive down to the mall in Springs - the same mall Marcus went to. Just about a kilometer from the prison on King’s Road there is an informal settlement with a major intersection. As he crossed the intersection a lonely Metro Police officer flagged him down - red-handed caught for not wearing his seat-belt. Mathobs accepted the fact, no excuses, he should have known better.

The officer informed him that this indiscretion would cost him R1 000. Mathobs politely informed the officer to go on, write the ticket. The officer was fuming and after he took his personal particulars which included his address, the officer went to his car and what seemed like checking something telephonically, he came back to Mathobs informing him that the address he provided (the single quarters on the residential area) differ from the registered address of his car (his mother’s address as this was where he was living at the time he bought the car).

To his surprise and shock, the officer summoned the tow-in company contracted to the Traffic Department as, according to him, “he is going to impound his car as there is a discrepancy between the registered address and the address supplied by you”.

Mathobs was dumbstruck and as the tow-in vehicle left with his car, the officer told him: “you can get your car tomorrow from the pound on payment of a fee of R650. It is your fault; you were not keen to talk about a discounted fine which could have been R300”.

The next day he paid the R650 to get his car and from there he went to lay a charge against the officer. A senior officer told him that it was his right to lay a charge and the officer indeed wronged to impound his car, but he should remember he would be a marked man. This was enough for him to let it go - as they say, cut his losses.

The irony is that the officer in his over-eagerness to impound his car out of spite forgot to write the ticket for not wearing a seat-belt. Mathobs indeed got a rebate!


Hats off for those gems in life who are prepared to take a stance on traffic bribery and who have the guts to fight it!

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