Thursday, March 10, 2016

Imitation is Flattery

Cloning is alive and well in South Africa. Not the cloning of sheep, cows or people (at least as far as I know) but the cloning of license plates. We learned this week that the license plate on the car that I drive was cloned and Mr. Deep had to devote several hours to trying to rectify the situation. 

I realize this post comes on the heels of a post when I shared that as Sr. Vice President of Household Operations I am in charge of fixing pretty much any mess (I mean challenge) related to our household. But you will also remember that I am a dependent spouse and sometimes being dependent gets me out of having to handle the most annoying of tasks. In South Africa's eyes I cannot own a car, rent a house or open any type of bank or other account. Because of this the license plates on my car weren't cloned because I don't own a car. But the license plates on the car that Mr. Deep owns, that I drive, were cloned.

I first learned of license plate cloning while watching a TV show called Carte Blanche.  Carte Blanche is an investigative journalism program that airs every Sunday. It is not an uplifting show. Watch one episode of Carte Blanche and you will wonder how quickly you can exit South Africa never to return. One report I saw on Carte Blanche was about the police pulling people over and beating the $%&! out of them. Another was about some kind of algae that is taking over all of the lakes and dams across the country that will make our water unfit to drink. Another exposed how raw sewage is poisoning the water supply. 

License plate cloners visit parking lots and take photos of license plates. Then, they go to shops that produce fake license plates and have fake plates created. Fake plates are then affixed to cars similar to the make and model of the original car. The cars with the fake plates cruise through electronic tolls (e-toll) without having the little dashboard e-toll device or an account to pay the tolls. The e-toll system takes a photo of the license plate of the car passing through without paying and the person who owns the car with the original and non fake plates, gets charged for the tolls that the fake plates vehicle passed through. In even more serious cases highlighted by Carte Blanche, drivers with fake license plates commit crimes and then the police show up at the house of the person with the original non-fake license plates thinking that poor unsuspecting individual is the criminal.

E-tolls are a controversial topic in South Africa. Actually controversial is the wrong word because it implies that people disagree about e-tolls. Instead, it is one of the few topics that most South Africans seem to agree on. It appears that most South African citizens strongly dislike e-tolls. I once made the mistake of bringing up the subject of e-tolls with a South African woman I met in the bathroom of a bar (I get chatty in the ladies room sometimes) and I got a ten minute earful about the topic. An earful that included a lot of swear words. I don't like to guess where opinions of people here come from but if I had to guess I would say that people here don't trust the government to spend the money earned from tolls on the projects that the money is supposed to support. Also, there are a lot of people who really can't afford to pay the e-tolls.

In the U.S. we also don't like paying tolls but we appreciate the convenience of being able to drive quickly through a toll booth if we have an electronic thingy on our dash. When traffic forms at toll booths because of the need for the lanes of people who still think it's 1982 and are still paying their tolls in cash we ask ourselves, "who doesn't have an EZ pass in this day and age?" Only we don't say it quite that nicely. The tolls here are not like the ones in the U.S. There are no actual booths that each vehicle drives through. Instead a giant scaffolding like structure branches over all the lanes of the highway and every vehicle just drives under it. 

If you don't pay your e-tolls a photo of your car is taken as you pass under the scaffolding and you receive a bill. If you have unpaid tolls you might have trouble renewing your vehicle registration which needs to be renewed annually. 

Even though we got the little e-toll device to stick on our dashboards, Mr. Deep and I don't drive on the highway much so our toll expenses are very low. Because of this Mr. Deep was surprised to notice earlier this week that our prepaid e-toll account was drained and that we were being asked to add more money. He requested the transaction history and immediately learned that there were over 20 transactions since February 19 all showing the car that I drive going up and down the N1 highway. The total cost of the tolls was R60. That isn't a lot of money but the situation still needed to be addressed. 

To avoid being accused of a crime we didn't commit and to have a record of the cloning so that we could request a new set of license plates, Mr. Deep had to the visit the SAPS (South African Police Service) and file a police report. As much as I would have loved to spend an afternoon visiting the SAPS, it's not my car, so I couldn't file the report.

When Mr. Deep arrived at the SAPS office and explained the situation, the police officer was incredulous. He grilled Mr. Deep as to how he knew for sure that his plates were cloned. Do people really take the time to visit the SAPS and pretend that their license plate has been cloned just to get out of paying tolls?  Mr. Deep handed over his extensive documentation obtained through lengthy conversations with the e-tolls office. After about twenty minutes, the officer admitted that cloning is a huge problem. He didn't feel like taking the report though so instead he handed the document containing the fraudulent e-toll transactions to another police officer who happened to be on the phone at the time. The officer who was on the phone shook his head and handed the document back to the first officer. In America we call this game hot potato meaning something that no one wants to touch.

Finally the first officer said Mr. Deep could file an affidavit which is like a self service police report. Mr. Deep had to write up his own report about what happened and the officer then signed it and stamped it.

Now the Ops team is working on figuring out how we can get new license plates for my car. I mean Mr. Deep's car that I happen to drive. 


  1. I had no idea! But it makes perfect sense! Will definitely share with my readers...

  2. Hi!
    My name is Natalie Sullivan and I'm casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We'd love to film in South Africa and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 15 months or have been there for 3-4 years, but recently moved into a new home. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. The expats on the show would also receive monetary compensation if they are filmed. They must also speak English fluently and can be buyers or renters for their homes. If you'd like more information, please give me a call at 646.862.2188 or skype me at natalieesullivan. You can also email me at Looking forward to hearing from you.

    1. Hi Natalie, thanks for the information and for reading my blog. I'll post this information for you via twitter and on my personal and blogger facebook page to see if there is any interest.


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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.