Our new zero is model and law student Sabina Essa who recently took to Twitter, openly flaunting that she broke the law and paid a bribe to a JMPD cop.
This comes only a few weeks after two other young South African models, Jessica Leandra dos Santos and Tshidi Thamana, also got themselves into trouble for tweets, although theirs took the form of racist outbursts which shook the nation.
On Sunday 6 May Essa bragged on Twitter saying: “Just got out of a R2 500 fine for going 140 in a 60 zone. R30! Bwahahahaha. I LOVE JMPD.”
When another Twitter user asked her whether she offered the bribe, she re-tweeted; “I didn’t offer, dumbass. They asked what I had. Of course, I’m gonna take the offer.”
Her tweet caught the attention of Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) chairperson Howard Dembovsky, who immediately replied to her urging her to contact him.
“When I saw the tweet, I was horrified that anyone could boast about paying a bribe on a social network and equally surprised that any traffic cop would accept a bribe of only R30 for a serious offence for which they are compelled to arrest the perpetrator,” said Dembovsky.
Following Dembovsky’s request, Essa contacted him late Sunday night.
During their discussion she claimed she was stopped on the R55 near the N14 onramp and that the traffic officer concerned gave her a warning for not wearing her seatbelt. She added that she then gave the officer R30 to buy lunch.
As the conversation continued, she changed her story and referred to driving at 140km/h. She said the tweet was posted to seek “some attention” from her Twitter followers.
According to Dembovsky, she cried during the conversation and sounded worried about the fact that the rest of her life could be affected by this “stupid prank”.
“She started off the conversation being very apologetic, but as she continued it became apparent that she was in a flat panic over the consequences that this could have for her and for her planned career as an attorney.”
After the discussion with the JPSA, she tweeted the following: “So sorry for my tweet. I fabricated the story to attract attention, we sometimes all do it and [I’m] super-embarrassed.”
When Corruption Watch contacted her to find out what really happened, she denied the incident ever taking place.
“Kindly do your research. That didn’t in fact happen. Don’t contact me again,” she re-tweeted.
Essa has since deleted all the tweets relating to this matter.
Dembovsky said while Essa has subsequently said that her tweet was a lie and was intended to gain attention from her followers, “we have to question why anyone would think that it would be ‘cool’ to tweet something like that – true or not”.
“The thought of anyone boasting about paying a bribe is morally reprehensible,” he added.
“When I first saw the tweet, I was suspicious of the R30 bit because of the fact that I know the guys from the JMPD high speed unit and knowing how they operate, I had sincere doubts that they would let anyone they catch go, much less take a R30 bribe.”
Furthermore, Dembovsky added that the area concerned “R55 near Olivienhoutsbosch” is not covered by the JMPD, but by the Tshwane Metro Police Department (TMPD).
Referring to inconsistencies in Essa’s story, Dembovsky said a speed of 140km/h in a 60km/h zone does not have a fine of R2 500 as she claimed. It is a serious criminal offence for which the only remedy is to arrest the perpetrator and bring them to court for sentencing.
“I found the suggestion that there was a fine of R2 500 payable an indication of an untruth and assumed that this would have originated from a corrupt cop who didn’t want to carry a threat of arrest out if a bribe was not paid.”
Both the JMPD and the TMPD have to operate under the Aarto Act and the maximum fine that a traffic cop can write under that Act is R1 500.
An offence more serious than the R1 500 fine warrants summons or arrest in terms of the Act.
Condemn solicitation and paying of bribes
Both Corruption Watch and JPSA condemn the solicitation and paying of bribes.
“If we want to effectively fight corruption in our society then citizens and those in positions of power, whether in government or business, should play their part by refusing to bribe,” said Corruption Watch spokesperson Bongi Mlangeni.
“[Her] actions and her audacity to publicly speak about her actions in a boastful manner show that some people are happy to bribe and do not realise it is in fact a criminal offence.
“Citizens who pay a bribe are perpetuating criminal behaviour,” she explained. “They certainly should be held to account, and even be arrested when found to be corrupt.”
Dembovsky agreed, adding that corruption is a supply and demand crime and “if one concentrates on only one side of the supply chain, we will get nowhere”.
“Anyone who pays a bribe is in fact guilty of the same crime of corruption as anyone who receives one. “
He said Essa should have taken responsibility for her actions and “faced the music”.
“We have our sincere doubts that she did in fact pay a bribe of such a low quantum, but let’s assume she did.
“If she was given a fine, she should have paid the fine – but I reiterate that this would not have happened unless the traffic officer concerned adjusted both the speed reading and the stated fine of R2 500 down to R1 500 as is prescribed by the Act.”
Corruption Watch added: “If an officer was soliciting a bribe from her, she should have refused to take part in this criminal behaviour, demand to see the officer’s appointment card, take down the details and report the incident to the police and to Corruption Watch.”
If the officer refused to show his or her appointment card, she could take down the car registration number, document the time of the incident and report the matter to the police, added Mlangeni.
People can report bribery and corruption to Corruption Watch through its website or by emailing email@example.com.
Corruption Watch also has “know your rights” cards which are available for download here.
Some 25 000 “know your rights” cards will be distributed with the The Star and Pretoria News on Tuesday 22 May.