In the weeks following our hard-hitting report on corruption within the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD), a string cases of alleged bribery and assault by police have been publicised, with the Ivory Park hawker incident and The Star’s recent coverage of alleged cop corruption in Bryanston among the most damning.
Corruption Watch went undercover in three vastly different regions of the city, from the northern suburbs to Yeoville and then to Soweto – and got more stories from those most affected by the rot. This is what they had to say:
James Mokoena*, truck owner
“I use my car for business. I hire trucks out. We do rubbish removals from building sites. I have been asked to pay a bribe plenty times. Not even a week goes by without being asked to pay a bribe. They just pull you over and they’ll make sure they find something wrong with the car.
“For instance, they can say that the truck is not roadworthy even if there’s nothing wrong with it. Sometimes the metro cop officers call me and I have to travel to where they caught the truck driver and they’ll tell me I must get a cool drink for them otherwise they’ll take the disc for the truck.
“Sometimes they ask for money and depending on your offence you could pay up to R500. If I have money, I pay the bribe. I have no choice, otherwise I can’t work. I’ll be out of business if they take the truck off the road. Even if there’s nothing wrong with the truck they have the power to take it off the road. So I’d rather pay them that R200. I know I will make the money back within two hours.”
Simphiwe Xaba, taxi driver and queue marshal
“I get stopped by the metro police a lot. They usually ask me to show them my driver’s licence or permit. If I don’t have a permit on me, we work something out. If I’m in the wrong I’m the one who initiates this discussion. Sometimes I would offer them a R100 because I don’t always carry cool drink with me. This happens many times. Sometimes if I don’t have money, they’ll tell me I must go get it from my boss and when I come back I’ll find that they’ve punctured my tyres. That really hurts.”
Morena Mosibodi*, logistics business owner
“I travel on Chris Hani road a lot and I used to get stopped by the metro police almost every day. I was using this car for about eight months without a disc. If your car doesn’t have a disc, they have to impound it. But they have never impounded it. They told me if they impound my car I will have to pay R1 500, and if I didn’t want it to be impounded I should just pay them R500.
“Sometimes I only had to pay a R100. Now I have a disc but they still stop me. They sometimes check the car to see if I have a triangle, fire extinguisher, a safety belt for the passenger seat – things like that. And then they will ask me to pay a bribe if I don’t have these things.”
Nthato Direko*, former taxi driver
“I wanted to be a traffic cop before I knew that traffic officers are so corrupt. A while ago, when I was still a taxi driver, a traffic officer stopped me. I didn’t know that he would ask me to pay a bribe, so I just got out of the car and didn’t take any money with me. I didn’t know that it was normal to just pay a bribe when you get stopped. So I just showed him my licence.
“He asked me where I was from ‘because it seems like you don’t know how things work here’. He didn’t check my car, he just wanted money. So I went back to the car and I gave him R30. And then I said to him; ‘I always wanted to be a traffic cop but if this how you treat people I am no longer interested’. He didn’t look too happy, but he didn’t return the money. I was heartbroken because there was nothing wrong with the car.”
Papi Mokgorosi*, a professional in the film industry
“I was stopped next to the university on Chris Hani road once. I didn’t have to pay a bribe. First thing I do when I get stopped; I put on a very beautiful smile. If you are a woman, you’ll never write me a ticket. “I usually just say ‘you are so beautiful, look at you’. I’ll look at your badge and then I start praising your ancestors. So they feel like you know them. Then they won’t write me a ticket or ask me to pay a bribe. But I had to pay a bribe once because I was caught speeding and I was talking on the phone. Now I carry a R20 note at all times, just in case my smile doesn’t work and I have to pay a bribe. These metro guys are corrupt. Most of the time I don’t pay, I have to struggle first to keep that money.”
Yeoville’s Rocky Street is abuzz with activity – hawkers fill the street from one end to the other. Many of the residents and small business owners are foreign nationals whose driver’s licences are not recognised in South Africa. This makes them easy targets for bribery. JMPD officers patrol the street several times a day soliciting bribes from residents and hawkers.
Pedro Malangatana*, hawker
“We use our car to transport our goods so we can sell them. We always park in a place where parking is forbidden. Instead of writing me a ticket, the metro police asks for money. Another offence I’m usually stopped for is driving without a licence. They all just want R20 or more. They want money everywhere, they don’t write tickets.
“If you say they must write you a ticket, they’ll find more wrong things with your car so that you pay more money for refusing to pay a bribe. I pay a bribe five times a day, so I end up spending a R100 on metro cops. And my business doesn’t even make that much money. If I’m lucky I make R350 a day, then a R100 goes to the cops. They come here every day. That’s how we survive. I can’t even save money so that I can get a licence. You need R5 000 to get a licence. It will take me a long time to accumulate that money.”
Jacob Makina*, self-employed
“I’m self-employed so I drive all over town for my business. I meet a lot of cops on the road. I’ve been stopped by metro cop several times. Many of them, if you give them a cool drink, they let you go. When they stop me they usually check for my traffic registration certificate, my lights or my driver’s licence.
“Certain women traffic cops stop us all the time, because we have foreign driver’s licences and they say it’s not recognised by South Africa, and that we have to get a South African driver’s licence. But they usually ask for R50 or R20 and then they let you go. It doesn’t happen to me every week, but it happens often.”
Tinashe Mandaringa*, self-employed
As a foreigner, when you travel you might find that you don’t have a traffic registration certificate. Even if you’ve got your original disc from your country, they say this is a foreign licence and it’s not valid in South Africa.
“After that they threaten to write you a ticket or they ask for a cool drink. So basically when someone says they’ll write you a ticket for R1 200, you can’t opt to pay that so you give them the cool drink or R50, depending on what they want. This has happened to me several times.”
Peter Abayomi*, self-employed
“I use my car for business and I get stopped all the time. Once I was stopped and instead of writing me a ticket the metro cop said; ‘let’s talk like men’. Then we talked like men and I gave him what I had. And he let me go. I was at a check point. He wanted to ensure that the car was worthy to be on the road. I wasn’t wearing a seat belt. So that’s the offence I committed at that particular time. It happens often. I use the same trick every time I’m stopped. I don’t want to be given a fine, or to be charged. So I just speak to them and they let me go.”
Tumelo Lesiba*, hawker
“Yes, I have been stopped by the metro police. Sometimes they’ll stop me to check if there’s something wrong with the car. Some of them would say they’re gonna write you a ticket but if you offer to give them a cool drink or money they accept it and they don’t write a ticket.
“Sometimes we are in the wrong and it’s better to pay the bribe than the ticket because that’s more expensive. Once they stopped me because my tyre was worn out. And I paid them something small. It doesn’t happen all the time though.”
“I was a passenger in a car with another woman who was stopped at a roadblock opposite Bryanston High School, heading towards Hyde Park, at around 10pm last year. The officer asked for my friend’s licence and then if she had been drinking. She had not. He looked around the vehicle and all seemed in order. Still, he was reluctant to hand her licence back to her and seemed to be waiting for something.
“Finally the officer told us that he was hungry and hadn’t had any dinner. My friend said she was sorry, that she didn’t have any food with her. We both knew the officer was waiting for a bribe, but neither of us was comfortable with this.
“The fear is three-fold: If you suggest giving an officer money, you’ve broken the law and you get arrested for trying to bribe an officer. If you don’t hand over something, he just doesn’t give the licence back to you. Thirdly, women are extremely vulnerable in these situations – we’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, I’m afraid. My friend finally gave him the change in her ashtray and he waved us on.”
“I will not pay a bribe. They can shoot me. They look for something wrong on my bakkie and often it’s only bakkies that get pulled over. I ask them upfront for identification if they start talking about lunch or money. I haven’t paid a bribe yet.”
“I am usually waved through roadblocks in this area. I’m not sure if they know I live here, or what. I did get stopped on Sandton Drive near Grayston for talking on my cell phone. I admitted guilt the minute the officer approached me and said, ‘It’s a R500 fine, isn’t it?” He said, ‘Yes, but a gogo like you . . . can you afford that?’ You just know what’s coming next. I just kept quiet and he let me go without a fine or a bribe.”
“I was stopped one night on Main Road, right near the William Nicol turnoff, by two SAPS officers. They told me to get out of my vehicle while they searched it. I asked what they were looking for and they said, ‘We just need to search the car.’ While they were doing that I told them that my husband was waiting for me and I had to call him. I phoned and told him where I was and said he should maybe come up there. They let me go immediately. I have to say, though, I was terrified. The area is dark and I feel like they [the police] can do anything and not get convicted for it.”
“Yes, I handed over a bribe in a roadblock [in this area]. I was on my way to a braai and was pulled over. The officer told me she would ignore my broken tail light if I gave her ‘a gift’. I joked with her and said ‘My wife doesn’t give me money!’ She pointed at the packet of boerewors on my passenger seat and said she’d take that. I went to the braai with no boerewors!” *Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals.