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Cry, our beloved Southern Africa

15 December 2016

Over the past two months we’ve travelled more than 15 000km in Southern Africa. We were in Namibia, Botswana (twice), Zimbabwe (twice), Mozambique, Swaziland and, on two occasions, in Lesotho. And sadly, Southern Africa is in a sorry state. And I don’t mean the respective economies, or the drought, or politics, or the state of the roads, or any such matter. I mean the people. And specifically, the people with a uniform and a badge who we are supposed to respect, and in whom we are supposed to trust.

Botswana has, for years, been a beacon of hope in our region. With a government apparently intent on actually doing the right thing, a prosperous economy, friendly people and amazing tourist destinations, Botswana seemed to be a shining example of what a successful African country could be like. It’s like an oasis in our neck of the geopolitical dessert. But alas, it’s not perfect. On a recent trip to Botswana we were stopped at a roadblock. Motioned to move forward by a police constable, we were not greeted with a ‘hello’ but immediately informed that we had just earned a 200 pula fine for ignoring a stop street. This is known as entrapment in the rest of the world. After much deliberation, including a stage where we were ‘arrested,’ we left the roadblock R700 poorer.

The next day it got even worse. Leaving Botswana at the Plumtree border to Zimbabwe, we completed all the admin, with only the police checkpoint to clear. The cars were waiting in single file, with a handful of police officers randomly checking passports. We were about three cars from the front and had just got back into our vehicle after dipping our shoes into the regulatory concoction that combats foot and mouth disease, when a young policeman, seemingly impatient, motioned us to move our car along in the queue.

And as soon as the wheels turned a half-turn, a big smile spread from his left to his right ear. “Operating a vehicle without safety belts? That’s 400 pula. Park right over there,” he said. That’s entrapment, part two. We were laughed at, intimidated, threatened, and finally, after handing over a 40 pula ‘donation’, waved through the border. But nothing could quite prepare us for the gauntlet that awaited us in Zimbabwe a fortnight later. Initially all went well, as we stuck to non-touristy routes. But then we hit the main road to the infamous Beit Bridge – and the ‘Big Rip-off’ commenced.

First we were caught doing 64km/h in a 60km/h zone. Fair enough, speeding is speeding… we handed over the $5 penalty. Next we were fined $20 for driving with the vehicle’s lights on, but thankfully we were only charged a $5 ‘donation’. Next we were caught doing 81km/h in a 100km/h zone – which the police officer claimed to be a 60km/h zone. That was $20.  At one stage, there was a roadblock every 10km. And with virtually no road signs indicating speed limits, we never really knew what speed we were supposed to be doing.  We actually started placing bets on what they would fine us for next. As a norm, the officers would ask us to produce the vital temporary import permit (TIP). Once handed over, they would walk away with it, knowing full well that for us to continue our journey without this piece of paper would invite untold trouble.

Later we contemplated just not stopping. None of the Zimbabwean police officers had a car. But many of them had spike strips handy, ready to be deployed. And we suspect some of them may even have had cellphones, which meant they could phone their cousin at the next roadblock, 10km down the road, which may cause untold trouble. And, after all is said and done, handing over $20 seemed smarter than spending any time in a Zim penitentiary. Not that any of this deterred the locals – they pretended the cops were not there, driving straight past. From a business perspective, it hardly makes sense for the cops to try and stop them… cash-strapped Zimbabweans hardly have $5 about them, so the effort of harassing and subsequent low profitability margin of local motorists is simply not worth the effort.

Essentially then, if you are a foreigner, the Zimbabwean police will relieve you of all your dollars. They will find a reason. From your car being dirty (a $20 charge), to a motorcycle not carrying a spare wheel (another recorded charge, along with a $100 fine). And Botswana police officers will apparently do their best to entrap you if your vehicle carries a foreign registration. After this vexing experience, we will not go back to Zimbabwe in the foreseeable future. Ditto with Botswana.

It is such a pity that our beloved Southern Africa is being held to ransom by this culture of corruption. Worse still, if a ‘halo’ country such as Botswana suffers from this infirmity, it does not bode well for the region’s future prospects. I couldn’t even try to offer a solution to this conundrum… there doesn’t seem to be any obvious solution at hand. The roots of this culture of corruption are too deeply entrenched, it seems. Cry our beloved Southern Africa indeed.

  • Gawie Botha

    This is how those people start their own “Killing Fields!

  • Arun Masilamoni

    Very sad. When I first visited Zimbabwe from Zambia, in 1980, the people walked straight and tall, heads held high and proud, meeting all eyes with friendliness. They were eager to help foreigners. We lived for 2 years near Masvingo (then Fort Victoria) and enjoyed Zimbabwean friendship, hospitality and decency. To read this is distressing. I have been contemplating visiting Zambia and Zimbabwe, as that is the land I was born in and lived in for the first 12 years of my life, but am now wondering.

  • Nkanyamba

    I wouldn’t bother visiting local rip-off destinations like this. You are fleeced the moment you set foot north of us, until you return. Even Kingsley Holgate was fleeced blind – and he was on his way to help the locals. Not worth it. Spend your time and cash in a country where they appreciate you and don’t fleece you 24/7 – Far away from these foresaken lands.

  • Puffin Modise

    Yah driving in Southern Africa is night mate from the police lice officers. In BotswAna , the president has requested each police station to make P30k per month. So it’s really a nitemare here. I have been harassed by SA police ( traffic) so many times that I even stopped driving a with foreign number plates. At one time in SA; I didn’t have money to donate aka bribe; the traffic cop saw a bottle of whiskey in the car, and he asked me to pour some of it for him.

  • Alice

    Take a big dog with you and they will avoid your car….

    • Biloko

      A big pet snake with large teeth sitting in the front seat would surely help …

      • Alice

        Absolutely, forgot about the snake. Better then a dog.

  • Else Jean Jensen

    Oh, this must be stopped. Everybody will suffer if tourism decreases.

  • Cee Shonhiwa

    This is indeed a sad story. Zimbabwe will continue to revenue form tourism if these issues are not addressed.

    However, Kariba Publicity Association have compiled all the complains from both the visitors and the tour operators in Kariba, and came up with a document which has been tabled before the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality, Hon Engineer Water Mzembi on the 24th of December 2016.

    We are so confident that it will take a shape. As we speak the Minister have started communications with some of the government departments like Home Affairs which is in-charge of the Police, Department of National Parks for licences among others. Its not an event but a process. Mid January the Minister of Tourism will be visiting Kariba to meet with Stakeholders.

    For more information please like our facebook page: kariba Publicity Association or email us on

    Please do not hesitate to air out your views as we already hooked to the Minister..

    Thank you

  • Tlamelo Thari

    the person who wrote this article is very biased and i will for one state that its pretty easy to write this about other Southern Africans while excluding South Africa since their nationals of that country. Ask any national from Botswana and they will tell you the same story about SA police. They hardly ever let a foreign plate number pass without stopping it. Its in the North West province where u might be lucky enough not be stopped by a policeman. I for one have one such situation where one police officer driving an unmarked A4 followed us for a while before stopping us and telling us that we had passed 4 intersections with stop markings without braking and stopping.He then proceeded to say that the fine was R1600. We tried to argue in vain that we had actually stopped but he was quick to point out that we were at fault and that if we did not adhere to his fine he was going to impound our car. So we resorted to pleading for leniency and eventually parted with R800 which we had to go all the way back to a mall to withdraw and give to him.

  • Gt


  • Schalk van der Merwe

    18 Months ago at the age of 65 I traveled from Johannesburg South Africa solo through Africa by motor cycle to Egypt and back on a 33 000km trip through 18 countries. I have been stop many times for speeding. I always asks for for leniency. Sometimes they let me go on a warning but I never offer a bribe and I would never pay a bribe. I paid fines in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Malawi and Botswana but a bribe never. I think you just have to stand your ground. Africa is so undeveloped but their laser speed checking are very efficient. I think maybe that is one of only a few ways of receiving revenue. In Tanzania they have village after village with a 50 km speed limit. In Botswana they might have 10 shacks in the middle of nowhere and then there is a 60 km speed limit. So either you pay or stick to the speed limits but never go so low as to pay bribes. Schalk van der Merwe.