31 August 2009

Roadside checks

There is a lot of talk amongst overlanders about corruption and bribery attempts along the roads. This usually takes place is the form of a speed trap or a police check where something is found missing with the paperwork or the car. We have heard from people who take a special budget of small denomination dollars for the express purpose of paying off bribes, and others who were stopped 8 times in one day in Malawi (we put this down to having South African plates, as South Africans are not very popular in Malawi, for historical reasons). Ever since leaving Botswana we encounter roadside checks multiple times a day, where a couple of uniformed police men and women check on the condition of mini buses, trucks and other local traffic. We are always amazed how these guys get let through, specially considering the condition the vehicles are in most of the time, with back doors tied down by rope and spewing black fumes while inching up the hill due to overloading, but we rarely see anyone pulled over for good. We are often waved through after everyone has had a good look at our strange number plates, the steering wheel on the wrong side and the woman driver, but we have also been stopped for a check on our paperwork. Our papers (driving license, registration, COMESA insurance, temporary import license and carnet) are in a business-looking folder and when we whip it out we are usually given up for a lost cause. No-one so far has asked for money outright, but I suspect that the cops who checked that we carry two warning triangles and that we have a fire extinguisher were secretly hoping that we didn't. Maybe we are dense, on reflection I now suspect that the cop who miserably told me that he hadn't had any breakfast yet was really fishing for a can of coke or a bit of cash. Who knows. Fake speed traps are another apparently popular way to extract some money, so the two times we were stopped for speeding we were very dubious. The first time was in Lusaka, just after we had been subject to a major rip-off by the local laundry, so we were not interested in paying any more money out to a spurious claim. There really was little chance that I had been speeding, as anyone who has driven through Lusaka traffic knows it's not possible to actually clock 80. As the police man came up to us, having flagged us down in the fast lane of the dual carriageway, Stuart - in the back seat - went into outrage overdrive and immediately told the guy that we weren't speeding, we could prove it with our GPS and we would be happy to go to court over it. And by the way, could he please have a complaint form, he would like to make a formal statement. This resulted in a back and forth for a few minutes where the cop claimed we were doing 86 in an 80 zone and anyway, we had probably not slowed down for the hospital zebra crossing earlier. In the end I left my South African address and phone number and left with the information that the police would call me by the end of the week with the court's results... Yesterday we were caught speeding for real, though, and despite arguing that there might not have been a 50 sign (there was, we were just distracted from it by a street seller waving his bunches of maize at us) or that the speed trap machine might be measuring wrong, we had to admit in the end that we had gone to fast. 20000 Tanzanian Shilling (£10/NZ$20) and a proposal of love to Merryl by the traffic cop later we had completed the long process of filling out a receipt - UK addresses are hard to spell - and we were back on our way.

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