Cry, our beloved South­ern Africa

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - NEWS -

OVER the past two months we’ve trav­elled more than 15 000km in South­ern Africa. We were in Namibia, Botswana ( twice), Zim­babwe ( twice), Mozam­bique, Swazi­land and, on two oc­ca­sions, in Le­sotho. And sadly, South­ern Africa is in a sorry state. And I don’t mean the re­spec­tive economies, or the drought, or pol­i­tics, or the state of the roads, or any such mat­ter. I mean the peo­ple. And speci­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fif­i­cally, the peo­ple with a uni­form and a badge who we are sup­posed to re­spect, and in whom we are sup­posed to trust. Botswana has, for years, been a bea­con of hope in our re­gion. With a gov­ern­ment ap­par­ently in­tent on ac­tu­ally do­ing the right thing, a pros­per­ous econ­omy, friendly peo­ple and amazing tourist des­ti­na­tions, Botswana seemed to be a shin­ing ex­am­ple of what a suc­cess­ful African coun­try could be like. It’s like an oa­sis in our neck of the geopo­lit­i­cal dessert. But alas, it’s not per­fect. On a re­cent trip to Botswana we were stopped at a road­block. Mo­tioned to move for­ward by a po­lice con­sta­ble, we were not greeted with a ‘hello’ but im­me­di­ately in­formed that we had just earned a 200 pula fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fifine for ig­nor­ing a stop street. ThThThThThThThThThThThThThThThis is known as en­trap­ment in the rest of the world. Aftftftftftftftftftftftfter much de­lib­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing a stage where we were ‘ar­rested,’ we left­ftftftftftftftftftftftft the road­block R700 poorer.

ThThThThThThThThThThThThe next day it got even worse. Leav­ing Botswana at the Plumtree border to Zim­babwe, we com­pleted all the ad­min, with only the po­lice check­point to clear.

ThThThThThThThThThThThe cars were wait­ing in sin­gle fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­file, with a hand­ful of po­lice of­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fi­cers ran­domly check­ing pass­ports. We were about three cars from the front and had just got back into our ve­hi­cle aftftftftftftftftfter dip­ping our shoes into the reg­u­la­tory con­coc­tion that com­bats

foot and mouth dis­ease, when a young po­lice­man, seem­ingly im­pa­tient, mo­tioned us to move our car along in the queue.

And as soon as the wheels turned a half- turn, a big smile spread from his left­ftftftftftftftftftftftftftft to his right ear. “Op­er­at­ing a ve­hi­cle with­out safety belts? ThThThThThThThThThThThThThThat’s 400 pula. Park right over there,” he said.

ThThThThThThThThThThat’s en­trap­ment, part two. We were laughed at, in­tim­i­dated, threat­ened, and fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­nally, aftftftftftftftftftftftfter hand­ing over a 40

pula ‘ do­na­tion’, waved through the border. But noth­ing could quite pre­pare us for the gaunt­let that awaited us in Zim­babwe a fort­night later. Ini­tially all went well, as we stuck to non-touristy routes. But then we hit the main road to the in­fa­mous Beit Bridge – and the ‘ Big Rip- offffffffffffffffffffffffffffff ’ com­menced.

First we were caught do­ing 64km/ h in a 60km/ h zone. Fair enough, speed­ing is speed­ing… we handed over the $ 5 penalty.

Next we were fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fifined $ 20 for driv­ing with the ve­hi­cle’s lights on, but thank­fully we were only charged a $5 ‘ do­na­tion’. Next we were caught do­ing 81km/ h in a 100km/ h zone – which the po­lice of­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fi­cer claimed to be a 60km/ h zone. ThThThThThThThThThThThThThThat was $20.

At one stage, there was a road­block ev­ery 10km. And with vir­tu­ally no road signs in­di­cat­ing speed lim­its, we never re­ally knew what speed we were sup­posed to be do­ing.

We ac­tu­ally started plac­ing bets on what they would fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fi­fifine us for next. As a norm, the of­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fif­fi­cers would ask us to pro­duce the vi­tal tem­po­rary im­port per­mit (TIP). Once handed over, they would walk away with it, know­ing full well that for us to con­tinue our jour­ney with­out this piece of pa­per would in­vite un­told trou­ble.

Later we con­tem­plated just not stop­ping. None of the Zim­bab­wean po­lice of­fi­cers had a car. But many of them had spike strips handy, ready to be de­ployed. And we sus­pect some of them may even have had cell­phones, which meant they could phone their cousin at the next road­block, 10km down the road, which may cause un­told trou­ble.

And, af­ter all is said and done, hand­ing over $20 seemed smarter than spend­ing any time in a Zim pen­i­ten­tiary.

Not that any of this de­terred the lo­cals – they pre­tended the cops were not there, driv­ing straight past. From a busi­ness per­spec­tive, it hardly makes sense for the cops to try and stop them… cash-strapped Zim­bab­weans hardly have $5 about them, so the ef­fort of ha­rass­ing and sub­se­quent low prof­itabil­ity mar­gin of lo­cal mo­torists is sim­ply not worth the ef­fort.

Es­sen­tially then, if you are a for­eigner, the Zim­bab­wean po­lice will re­lieve you of all your dol­lars. They will find a rea­son. From your car be­ing dirty (a $20 charge), to a mo­tor­cy­cle not car­ry­ing a spare wheel (another recorded charge, along with a $100 fine). And Botswana po­lice of­fi­cers will ap­par­ently do their best to en­trap you if your ve­hi­cle car­ries a for­eign reg­is­tra­tion.

Af­ter this vex­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, we will not go back to Zim­babwe in the fore­see­able fu­ture. Ditto with Botswana.

It is such a pity that our beloved South­ern Africa is be­ing held to ran­som by this cul­ture of cor­rup­tion. Worse still, if a ‘halo’ coun­try such as Botswana suf­fers from this in­fir­mity, it does not bode well for the re­gion’s fu­ture prospects.

I couldn’t even try to of­fer a so­lu­tion to this co­nun­drum… there doesn’t seem to be any ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion at hand. The roots of this cul­ture of cor­rup­tion are too deeply en­trenched, it seems.

Cry our beloved South­ern Africa in­deed.

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