For laying a charge of intimidation and corruption against a group of Tshwane metro police officers, a Pretoria informal trader is our hero of the week. To stop this kind of behaviour, ordinary South Africans need to join the fight.

Seven officers from the Tshwane Metro Police Department (TMPD) are under investigation after several complaints of corruption and intimidation were lodged by a hawker with the metro police department’s internal affairs unit.

The probe comes after the officers – six male and one female – were arrested on 29 November on the same charges. The informal trader, who is a Zimbabwean national, claimed the officers illegally confiscated his goods on three separate occasions, before taking away his asylum documentation. The officers would intimidate him, he reported, and twice confiscated airtime vouchers with a total value of R2 100.

Police department spokesperson Console Tleane said the officers were interviewed as part of an internal investigation before their arrest. They all appeared in court on 30 November; two were released on bail while charges were provisionally withdrawn against the other five until they could be positively identified by the complainant.

Continuous intimidation

The hawker’s troubles started in September, when, he said, the officers confiscated his goods after accusing him of trading illegally. He did not report the matter though, until it happened again a month later, in October. He said he was approached by the same officers and this time they took him to Fountains Valley Resort outside the CBD, where they left him to find his own way back.

He lodged a complaint of intimidation and corruption with the internal affairs unit later that day, claiming that his merchandise, which included airtime vouchers worth about R1 600, was taken from him at Fountains. It was not returned.

But his woes were far from over; he was again approached, this time on 4 November, and once again his goods were allegedly confiscated, including airtime vouchers worth R500. This time he was given a fine for the same amount for trading illegally.

Tleane said he was arrested “on what appear to be trivial charges for being a pedestrian cause of danger”. “The complainant paid an admission of guilt fine,” he said. “He again approached internal affairs, and was advised to open a case of intimidation with the South African Police Service.”

After the officers were interviewed, the man lodged another complaint on 24 November, claiming he had again been intimidated by the officers, who also allegedly seized his asylum papers.

Corruption-busting citizens

This informal trader’s efforts to use the channels available to him to fight corruption and intimidation by public officials were commended by Corruption Watch’s executive director, David Lewis, who viewed this story as a victory for ordinary citizens.

“We need more citizens like him who courageously stand up and report the corrupt,” said Lewis. “In fact, those who we entrust with public safety and who choose to abuse their power must be consistently exposed.”

Corruption Watch launched a citizen’s campaign on Friday, through which the organisation plans to mobilise ordinary South Africans in the fight against corruption, both in the public and private sectors. Using the character of Bra Tjotjo, a scammer who does not see the wrong in his corrupt ways, the series hopes to encourage young people to come forward with information about corruption and how it affects their daily lives.

Bra Tjotjo is the creation of Mdu Ntuli, a cartoonist and satirist whose recent work – an advertisement for a fish and chips franchise that featured President Jacob Zuma and his family having supper – was banned by the SABC. But the commercial made waves on social networks, sparking debate regarding the possible reasons for its banning.

He is also known for Izikhokho Show, which has a strong following on YouTube.

Lewis explained that in the Bra Tjotjo series, Ntuli was given the freedom to create his own stories and characters to deal with issues that he felt were the most important. “Corruption Watch was established because the people of South Africa are fed up with corruption,” explained Lewis.

Judging from the public’s anger, he added, it was clear that there was a growing awareness that if corruption was to be tackled, then ordinary South Africans would have to become active participants in this struggle.

For laying a charge of intimidation and corruption against a group of Tshwane metro police officers, a Pretoria informal trader is our hero of the week. To stop this kind of behaviour, ordinary South Africans need to join the fight.