GETTING THROUGH ZIM’S ROADBLOCKS
I have just read your February article about traffic police in this region and was surprised about your negativity towards Zimbabwe. I am a travel writer and author of a guidebook to Zimbabwe. I have had three editions published over 10 years, each of which has required me to travel the length and breadth of the country. All those thousands of kilometres have been covered in South African-registered vehicles, so in the last 15 years, I reckon I must have experienced many more Zimbabwean kilometres, border crossings, police roadblocks and been stopped for speeding more times than most people.
I understand that many South Africans have suffered at the hands of Zimbabwe’s traffic police but hand on heart, I can remember only three even vaguely unpleasant experiences. Once at Beitbridge, before they dispensed with the low-life border touts; once recently during a roadside discussion when I was fined for not displaying my NVM figures; and once when I foolishly took a group of cops to task about the disgusting amount of litter they had strewn around their regular roadblock spot near the Kazungula border. I have been fined many times for Zimbabwe’s often ridiculous and admittedly far too numerous traffic requirements; but each of those fines was legitimate, and although my speeding fine count is embarrassing, each occasion was entirely warranted.
Yes, the traffic police in Zim are revenue collectors rather than road safety officers but isn’t that the case in virtually every country? And yes, some of them are chancers, initially demanding an inflated fine and some apparently fooling gullible people into paying a fine for having a dirty car and other ridiculous bogus ‘offences’. (A dirty car is not in itself an offence, provided your lights, reflectors, windows and number plates are clean). Not once have I been tempted into a bribe and for every single offence I received a fully completed admission of guilt form as well as a receipt. In my extensive dealings with what this magazine brands as ‘Africa’s kings of extortion’; I’ve found them invariably courteous and to the best of my knowledge, they seemed to have been honest. More than that, we frequently end up having a laugh.
So what’s my secret? I advise thorough research. Check the legal requirements of the countries you’re driving through. An evening on the internet is all that’s required. Check www.bigsky.co.zw and click on ‘cubbyhole notes’ for chapter and verse regarding traffic offences and fines. There are several other sites, too. One word of warning about the Bigsky advice: several items listed (like fire extinguishers) are marked as not applicable to foreign-registered vehicles. This is correct but the cops either don’t realise this or choose not to, so my advice is to pack these items anyway, rather than spend half an hour arguing about it.
Step two comes when you’re charged with an offence. If you know you’re guilty, accept it with good grace. But if you do feel you are being charged unfairly or the fine is excessive, all you have to do is ask to see ‘The Book’. This is basically a schedule of every single traffic offence together with the appropriate fine. They are obliged to carry it and show it to you if asked. That way, you pay theth correct fine. RememRemember that the maximumaximum you can be asked to pay in a spot fine is $220 per offence. Speeding fines range from $5-$202 depending on how far over the limit you were. It’s not up to the officer’s discretion. Make sure you get a properly completed admission of guilt form plus a receipt for your fine.
Lastly, if you still feel you have been wrongly charged, paid too much or have a complaint about the police conduct, Bigsky and other sites publish a list of police customer service phone numbers to call and make your complaint. Print it out and keep it handy. If there’s phone signal, call them immediately from the roadside. I’ve never had cause to use these numbers but I believe they are very approachable and helpful at the other end of the phone.
If you know your rights and keep your cool, I see no reason why you shouldn’t sail through these procedures with a minimum of interruption. It definitely works for me.