Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - MAIL - Paul Mur­ray Pen­ning­ton

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 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.

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