Thursday, August 2, 2012

African Dream - to be a law enforcer

Playing Cops & Robbers

Dear visitors to Africa,
         In this vast continent more famous for its Banana republics than the bananas it exports everybody’s dream is to become a law enforcer of some kind.
          It’s billed as a secure Government job. In some countries you get paid fairly regularly and in others the pay is sporadic, if at all. But what makes it really appealing are the perks. They make the salaries seem like chicken feed, which most of them are anyway, so perhaps that’s not a good comparison.
          The freelance side is why the job is so sought after, other than perhaps being a Government Minister with your hand permanently in the National till.
          So I feel I must warn you that if you travel by road through any of Africa’s 54 countries you mustn’t try and uphold any high and might moral principles, because that way you won’t get very far.
          Here’s an interesting letter I came across about one man’s account of his 590 mile bus trip from Johannesburg in South Africa to Bulawayo in neighbouring Zimbabwe over a week-end in July. As he wanted to remain anonymous I was unable to contact him so I have had to assume certain aspects of the story.
          The vehicle he said was a Toyota Quantum which I guess was the one designed to carry 14 passengers, although this being Africa, it could have had 20 or more people in it.
          My other assumption was that the letter writer was white, because blacks are so used to being ripped off by their fellow blacks that they seldom complain about it.
Anyway when the bus arrived at the Zim Beitbridge border post the first official demanded and was paid R800 to have everybody processed quickly.
Zim border sign
Then a CID officer came to check the Temporary Import Permits for the vehicle and its trailer that was carrying the luggage. Inevitably he found something wrong with one of the documents and his price was R600 to let them through. The driver managed to settle for R200.
On leaving South Africa you enter a gate on the Zim side where the customs and immigration offices are, and beyond this there is another gate before you enter the Zim town of Beitbridge.
And just before the second gate our intrepid travellers were stopped once again by two uniformed officers, who asked to see all the passports, for which the ‘quick processor’ had been paid R800 a few minutes earlier. The driver had to give them R50 before he could continue.
Just 20 yards further on a rude female immigration officer also asked to see the passports. She spoke to our story teller in the local Shona language and when he indicated that he couldn’t understand her, a heated argument developed. To stop her detaining them as a punishment the driver had to produce another R100.
Why bribes help to get you through
Beyond the second gate at the entrance to the town of Beitbridge police officers manning a road block demanded R200 and were paid. While still in Beitbridge a further R200 had to be paid at another police roadblock.
After travelling just 30 miles more, three officers in the middle of nowhere cost them a further R100. Another roadblock and R200 had to be paid. Just before West Nicholson more policemen appeared, but by this time the driver had run out of money so he had to borrow R100 from a female passenger.
At Gwanda there was yet another set of starving policemen so the same lady had to lend the driver R100 more to pay the thugs, the letter writer continued. And on the way out of this little town the same procedure had to be repeated.
Just before they reached Mbalabala, which it less than 30 miles from Bulawayo, it looked as though they would get no further. An officer in a BMW stopped them and asked the driver for his re-test certificate, whatever that is.  This is evidently something peculiar to Zim because as the bus driver was South African he didn’t have one.
So the officer decided that a spot fine of 20 American dollars or R100 would solve the problem. In desperation the driver explained that all his money had already been paid to all the policemen who had stopped him on the way.
The furious officer then got into his BMW and departed with the driver’s licence and the documents for the bus and trailer.
Report in The Zimbabwean
Now we were stranded, Mr Anonymous recalled. We waited in the scorching heat hoping the BMW would return. After an hour I decided to take over the wheel as I had my licence. We paid a further $10 dollars at another roadblock before reaching Bulawayo.
The 234 mile journey from the border to Bulawayo had taken them seven hours and had cost R2150 plus $10 in bribes.
 Considering there are over 100 cross border vehicles passing through the border on a typical week-end. How much do these dirty, corrupt officers make? the letter writer asked. Your guess is as good as mine.
Being in law enforcement in Africa might be a dream for some, but it is an unbelievable nightmare for others, and does nothing to boost the badly needed tourist trade of dirt poor countries like Zimbabwe.
Jon, who is ashamed to be African when he hears stories like this.