After more than 250 000km travelling through Africa you’d think Johan Badenhorst’s Voetspore team knows all the rules and regulations regarding paperwork at border crossings. But sometimes even they forget an important document or stamp. That’s why Johan came up with the ‘Travel Bible’ concept.
It is truly amazing how poorly prepared even experienced African travellers can sometimes be. The lack of proper preparation is often the main reason a bribe is paid. And then we blame the corrupt officials in Zimbabwe, Mozambique or the DRC. The only way to stay out of trouble and avoid greasing the palms of the officials is to not present an opportunity. This we know. Yet, way too often, we are the guilty party.
I am not only referring to first-time travellers to the continent, nor people who have a once-in-a-lifetime safari to the Serengeti. I am also referring to people like us, the Voetspore team, who do this for a living. Despite the more than 250 000 kilometres we’ve racked up, visiting 40 countries on the continent, we do still get it wrong sometimes. A few years ago we embarked on a journey through the Great Rift Valley. Starting point was Sofala, just south of Beira in Mozambique. This is roughly where the Rift Valley runs into the Indian Ocean. To get to our starting point, we chose to travel through Zimbabwe. This was partly to avoid all the potentially corrupt officials on the long EN1 in Mozambique.
It involved an additional border crossing as we had to first enter through Beitbridge and then Mutare. The other option was Lebombo or Pafuri. The latter represented an adventurous scenic route. But our aim was to get to our starting point as soon as possible. We left Pretoria with what we believe was all our paperwork in order. We had a Carnet de Passage for each vehicle. During a previous trip up north, we had run into trouble as all three Carnets were issued in my name. They had to be in the name of the driver. We also had letters of permission from the owner of the vehicles, VWSA, stating that we may travel through the various countries. All our passports were in order with sufficient open pages and the visas for Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti. All six guys also had their Yellow Fever certificates.
First stop was just before Mussina. Early the next morning we approached Beitbridge. We had our vehicles cleared at Customs. A friendly police officer asked if we had police clearance for the vehicles. It’s a simple document, obtainable from the Traffic Department. It’s called a Request for Police Identification/ Clearance (RPC). I knew about this. We had these documents issued for previous trips. But this time round, things were just a little bit hectic before our departure. We neglected taking the three Amaroks to the traffic department at Waltoo or Nellmapius to have the PRCs issued. This was a mistake. The SAPD official was very helpful. He issued a form, stating that the three vehicles were not stolen vehicles. But they couldn’t issue a PRC. We thought it would be okay. At the Zimbabwean side we immediately ran into trouble. We had enough Rust en Vrede and Beyerskloof wine on board to last for a couple of months. This was illegal.
A customs official discovered the wine and made us pay an import duty (luckily she didn’t confiscate it) but there was no request to show a Police Clearance Certificate. We thought we were safe. On the route up north we were stopped a few times. Once for speeding (fine of $10). It was difficult to prove that we were not speeding and we were not in a 60km/h zone. The ‘fine’ was paid. Other roadblocks checked our fire extinguishers and red emergency triangles. These were all in order. No more fines. At Ngundu we left the main road with its annoying roadblocks and travelled via Triangle to Mutare, mostly on gravel roads. Then we hit the Mutare border post. At Immigration there was no problem. The passports were stamped, the yellow fever certificates were checked and all was in order. We were asked to proceed to Customs. In the office there were two officials. Against the wall was a big poster with the words “Stop corruption”. I felt this was going to be easy. But then the officials asked us to present our documents.
First it was the driver’s licence. Then registration certificate of the vehicles. Then permission from of the owner. Then third party insurance. We were able to comply with his requests. We even had duplicate copies of the documents. But then came the question: your PRCs please. I presented the document issued by the police at Beitbridge. No, said the officer, he wanted the PRC. He even showed us an example. I told him we had no PRCs for the vehicles, and tried to make a case that we had sufficient proof that these vehicles were not stolen. The officer said he believed us, but he had to do his job. Too many stolen vehicles cross the border. The fact that our vehicles were three identical Amaroks, branded with Voetspore Rift Valley logos could be a disguise. How could he know?
The officer had a solution: we could follow him with the three vehicles to Harare and go to Interpol. They’d be able to issue a similar certificate to the PRC. He unfortunately could not travel that day, but if we could wait until tomorrow, or the following day, he would gladly assist us. The officer could sense we were not interested in his suggestion. He knew there was another option. He indicated that for $100 per vehicle he could look the other way and clear our vehicles to proceed. As the ‘clearance fee’ was paid, and as we were about to leave the room, the other officer indicated that she also wasn’t sure whether they were stolen vehicles. Three Franklins were needed to convince her, too. So, 600 dollars later, and we left the border post. At today’s exchange rate, that equates to just over R8 000.
This is when I decided: get better organised. Don’t open the opportunity to be bribed. That is how I got the idea of a Travel Bible: a file in which you store all the relevant documents for a journey through Africa. There must be a division for each of the essential documents. Sections for a passport, extra passport photos, a Carnet de Passage, registration papers and copies thereof, insurance documents, PRCs, and so the list goes on. Before each journey I consult the Automobile Association (AA) website, just to make sure I am up to date with the latest requirements. Then I get the Travel Bible sorted. This folder keeps everything together. Border crossings and roadblocks are the biggest obstacles for travellers on the continent.
We will never get rid of them. But we can make it easier for ourselves. Just get organised. You want one? Visit our shop in Woodlands Boulevard or place an order with Stephan at [email protected].