Who polices the police?
Leroy Ndlovu relates a tale from the unforgettable era of Zimbabwe 2008, involving the traffic police.
The old gal was just out of the garage. Old Mdawini, the one-eyed mechanic, had been looking after her as long as I could remember, and for a long time I believed all mechanics had to have one eye if they were good at their work. He had changed the brake pads and tuned up the engine until it was as silent as a Peugeot 504 station wagon could get in 2008. She had seen her fair share of Christmases, but she had been loyal.
Two brothers cruising
That being done she was ready to get back to work. My father reared chickens at home and sold them at a shop in town. The Peugeot was the only vehicle we had for delivering chickens to the shop. My brother, being sensible enough to have a drivers’ licence (which I still don’t have to this day), was in the driver’s seat and I rode shotgun as we drove to the shop bright and early on a Monday morning. We were still a couple of years from seeing MP3 FM modulators, so we nodded our heads to Tupac’s Until The End of Time on cassette, cruising along Old Esigodini road without a care in the world.
As we hit the curve at the Ascot Race Course, men and women in reflective green suddenly appeared in the road and we both sighed. It was the police, and we were in an old car. Even in our wildest dreams we couldn’t hope to get past without being stopped. The officer who stopped us reminded me of the cat in Alice in Wonderland. He was smiling ear to ear like he had just won the lottery. Understandably so, the civil service hadn’t exactly been glamorous for a long time, and we knew how the police were making ends meet of late. My brother and I chuckled at how hungry he looked despite his best efforts to look cheerful.
Makadii maboss? (how are you gents?)
My brother responded in Ndebele.
Siyaphila bra. (we are well, brother)
He was asked for a driver’s licence. It was inspected and returned. We went through the routine checks; handbrake, brakes, tail-lights, brake lights, indicators – everything was in good working order. In a different world he might have grinned and wished us a good day. But not here; not in our beautiful homeland. The hungry looking officer went around the car twice. Taking in every single detail. Finally, he stopped in front of the car and I knew when his impossible grin got even wider that we were in trouble.
He strolled over to the driver’s window and said, “The numbers on your licence plate are not clear.”
We paid our ‘fine’ and drove away wondering if we had actually done anything wrong.
Police corruption rampant
It was only the beginning of course. Over the last few years this practice has become so common that we don’t even bat an eyelid when it happens. We accept it as a norm and go about our daily business. That day we got away with paying twenty rand, which I’m sure translated to a lot of bearer cheques; but as the years have gone by it has gotten worse. Recently an officer of the law was caught with a fake receipt book and eight hundred dollars in his pocket at a ‘Road Block.’
Eight hundred dollars! If I could make that kind of money in a day!
We could joke and say that civil servants don’t get paid much, and that the cops have to do what they can to survive; but who will take responsibility for this monster that has grown unabated these last few years?
Who polices the police?