Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Long Arm of the Law

Read any article, website, blog or book about moving to South Africa and you will be told that it's a strong possibility when driving you will be pulled over by the police. The articles will go on to say that sometimes the police will imply that if you give them cash they will let you go and that if you don't they will charge you with an infraction.

Like much of what I read about South Africa prior to coming here, I thought that this information must be grossly exaggerated. But it's not. Road blocks are everywhere. Here are the details of a recent run in with the law.

One Sunday morning Mr. Deep and I were heading over to his office. I had agreed to help him hang up some artwork. Helping in this case entails standing around while he does high level math so he can perfectly center the pictures on the wall. Helping then involves handing him tools like nails, the level, the hammer and such. 

On our way to the office we were pulled over. Being pulled over here does not usually mean flashing lights or sirens but a road block. The police officer stands in the middle of the road motioning that you must pull over. It is against the law to keep driving and ignore the request. The people who are motioned to be pulled over seem to be selected at random, some are forced to pull over while others drive right on by.

So Mr. Deep pulled over and the officer asked for Mr. Deep's drivers license. Mr. Deep then gave him his international drivers license which we obtained from triple A in the U.S. before coming to South Africa. Technically, from what we have read, our New York State driving license would suffice here but we got the international license anyway. 

Not to digress too much here, but the international drivers license looks like something that anyone with a computer, a printer a pen and a glue stick could make. It is is the least official looking document that I have ever seen. It looks like a booklet and has the licensee's name and information hand written on it in pen. It also includes a glued on passport photo of the licensee. 

The cop however, recognized the international license and did not seem concerned about its validity. Seeing that we were foreigners though he then asked for our passports and our traffic registry information neither of which we were carrying with us. Yes, we probably should have had copies of these items with us, but I also don't think that we were breaking any laws by not having this information with us. 

Then a circular conversation began between Mr. Deep and the officer. It lasted for about ten minutes. It went something like this.

COP: I need to see your passports. Maybe they have expired?
Mr. Deep: They are at home, sorry I didn't realize we were supposed to keep them with us in the car.
COP: You should keep a certified copy in the car. Otherwise, maybe your passport has expired? I must charge you and bring you down to the station. 
Mr. Deep: If you like I can go home and get the passports and bring them here (to the side of the road) and show them to you? 
COP: Maybe you can have someone go to your house, collect your passports and bring them to the station.
Mr. Deep: There really isn't anyone who can do that. If you like, I can go home, get the passports and bring them back here to show to you? 
COP: If you cannot produce your passports I will have to charge you and the fine will be R500 each. You must come down to the station now and pay it.
Mr. Deep: Sorry I didn't realize we were supposed to keep the passports with us in the car. We will make sure we keep copies in the car from now on.
COP: So I must not charge you? 
Mr. Deep: No we would prefer if you didn't charge us.
COP: Do you have any children? 
Mr. Deep: No
COP: Oh no children yet.
Mr. Deep: No, that ship has sailed.
COP: So I must not charge you? 
Mr. Deep: No don't charge us.
COP: The fine will be R500 each. You can come to the station now and pay it.
Mr. Deep: We do not have R1000 on us. We only have (looking at the money we both have) R30. We would have to go and get the money.
COP: Oh you don't have any money with you? 
Mr. Deep: No
COP: OK, I will let you off with a warning because I want to make sure you enjoy it here in South Africa and that mami (that's me, the momma lady) enjoys it here in South Africa also.
Mr. Deep: Yes, thank you. We are enjoying it very much.
Cop: Reaches into the car to shake both of our hands. 

And I thought going to hang up pictures might be boring. 

You'll be happy to know that after this happened Mr. Deep got certified copies of our passports and our traffic registry documents for us to keep in our cars to avoid these lengthy negotiations in the future. Or at least until we learn there is another document we should have with us that we were not aware of. 


  1. Ha! By those blogs you probably meant mine. So funny that you acctually wrote down the conversation, we have had many such conversations. And you are right at the end there - if it's not those documents, it will be others. I was once asked for a letter by my ambassador permitting me to drive African roads.

    Oh, and if you want to avoid this in future: Don't go driving on Sundays. Cops are out in droves then trying to make an extra buck.

    1. Yes this is not the first time we have been pulled over on a Sunday. Good times!


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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.