Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fair cop


Muriel has been talking about the questionable fairness of speeding fines on her blog, Salma-gundi. She's a very good writer (though not a particularly good judge of sex scenes in popular fiction), and you should go here and read her stuff.

Her post reminded me of some encounters I've had with policemen in Africa over the years.

The most recent was when I was caught speeding on the N4 between the Kruger National Park and Johannesburg airport. I was clocked at 148kph in a 120kph zone and unlike Muriel's case, there were no mitigating factors.

I hasten to add at this point that I was in a hire car (sorry) and not my venerable Series III Land Rover, which has a top speed of 80kph.

Anyway, this big fat African cop, direct from central casting, lumbers out from behind a tree and into my traffic lane and flags me down. He wasn't worried for his own safety. I think the small Japanese car I was driving would have crumpled, given the size of him, and he would have been left standing, though perhaps slightly dazed.

"Licence, please," said the cop. I knew I was going to be in for a rough ride as soon as he took my flashy gold plastic New South Wales licence in his meaty hand. "Ah, you are from Australia!"

"Yes," I smiled.

"You will have to accompany me to the station." Presumably this was because I was a foreigner, not a speedster.

Now, if a policeman in my home state said this to me I would start crying, because we would definitely end up in a police station and I would most likely be put in a cell with a large and lonely tattooed biker.

"No," I said to the South African policeman, followed by, "I'm not going to any police station. How much."

"Seven hundred Rand."

Mrs Blog gave a little squeal and started berating me for being so irresponsible. This was not because she thinks I'm irresponsible (well, actually she does, and I am). She was actually launching into a carefully choreographed little piece of theatre that we call the "cranky wife scene".

We've used it a few times when we've come up across obstinate customs and immigration officials, policemen and national parks officers. Generally speaking, most African cultures (and I include the whiteys here aswell) are misogynistic (did I spell that correctly Rebecca?).

Men believe they run the show and that women are subservient to them (crazy, I know). Of course, as is the case in most societies, the chicks are actually in charge and the blokes pretend it's otherwise. So when an eyebrow is lifted or a head nodded in a certain way, Mrs Blog knows it's time to bring on the "cranky wife" and let loose.

She starts by yelling at me, then directs her anger to the ridiculousness of the system (ie bureaucracy, speed limits, national park entry fees, etc). At this point I weigh in with a harsh: "ENOUGH!"

One cue, she shuts up and stares sullenly at me with a look that says: "how dare you order me to be quiet". She does this quite well.

I then look at the official in question - the traffic cop in this case - and give wry smile and an eyeball-roll that would have Groucho Marx smiling down from heaven.

"Women," my eyeballs say

The official - or cop - then smiles and nods, his gestures replying: "Ain't it the truth buddy."

Mrs Blog then sniffs a little and dabs at the corner of her eyes - as she did in this case.

"Madam, madam, don't cry," said the cop to Mrs Blog. "And do not be so angry with your husband. It will be all right."

At this point I say again, as I did with the traffic cop, "How much."

"Ah, how much do you have?"

"Well, I've got 600 on me, but I need to fill the car up at the airport and they don't take credit cards for petrol. I can probably spare R500." (about AUD$80).

Now, I must add at this point that I was in a hurry. Certainly, there was no way I was going to accompany anyone to any station, and nor was I going to pay the full fine. With time on my hands I have been known to negotiate my way completely out of a fine.

Once, in Zambia, just outside Livingstone, a traffic cop tried to fine me 50,000 Kwacha (about US$10) for not having the correct reflectors on my Zimbabwean-registered Land Rover. Apart from the fact that my vehicle was legal in Zimbabwe - which should have been sufficient for Zambia - and that I didn't have 50,000 Kwacha on me, on principle, there was no way I was going to pay this fine. I stood in the baking noonday heat, holding up a line of 20 or 3o vehicles as I negotiated.

Eventually, the copper tired of my polite obstinacy and Mrs Blog's carefully orchestrated rantings and tears and we were waved through the roadblock, not a Kwacha poorer.

If I had tried any of this back home in Australia I would have most likely been arrested and taken to said Biker's cell, or, if I lived in Victoria or Queensland, I would have probably been shot by the cop in question, who would have then planted his back-up piece on my body.

I wouldn't call the policeman who stopped me for speeding on the way to the airport corrupt - just... flexible. This is what I love about African officialdom - its bendyness.

"OK, 500," he said. "The camera does not lie, so I will write on your fine that you were doing 138kph and that way the fine will be R500. OK?"

I love African logic, aswell.

The jovial rotund officer left us with some words of advice for Mrs Blog: "Madam?"

"Yes," Mrs Blog sniffed, now drying her eyes with a Wimpy Bar serviette.

"Please do not berate your husband. He is a good man, and we are all human."


Java said...

You better hope he's not reading this blog LOL, bad bad Mrs Blog ;-)
Did you had a sore tummy the next day from all the laughing?

Crookedpaw said...

Maybe it's just as well the Victorian cops don't expect instant payment. With the way interest rates are climbing, along with petrol and cost of living, people would have to be driving around with boots full of money.

Like the new background. If you want to keep it still when readers scroll up add this to your HTML, just under the background image.


Live long and prosper


JR said...

I think the same Mr Plod pulled us over in 2000; it was definitely the same piece of road.

We were heading for the Moz Border and the thought of complicating any future crossings into SA were prominent.....same outcome. LOL...he's doing alright!

Anonymous said...

Classic african mentality... our farm truck is well known by police officials in Kitwe Zambia. Not because of breaking any laws on our part but because they know that we will have eggs and milk on bored going into town.

It is even budgeted for...
20km to town, 1 permenant road block, possibly 2 temporary road blocks in town only weekdays between 8am and 5pm. Approx 3 officers at each one, tray of eggs each.
3 trays minimum if we are lucky, 9 trays if they are lucky. Hence we only deliver on weekends or weekdays befor 8.
If we are empty... "Mmmmm ok, efyo mwachita! twa lamona!" (No worries, thats how its going to be! We'll see you!) In which case you produce a $5,000 note...

Joys of Africa... lol