Common opinions, Internet forums and press articles warn, that at any crossroads waits a corrupt policeman, who is going to rip you off on any excuse. There is something in and many times we were cautioned against it, in particular when it comes to Zimbabwe. This kind of advice were given us even by Afrikaners living in SA. And what? NOTHING. After thousands of driven kilometres and tens of police checkpoints crossed in countries of southern Africa we paid only one fine in amount of 10USD. So, where is the truth? Hereunder, we will try to describe our feelings and experience.
We obviously haven’t been everywhere and weren’t driving with the same intensity in different places. However, according to our experience we can indicate same regularities. The biggest number of controls we faced in Zimbabwe indeed. In this country police barriers are extremaly frequent and can be hit on in any bigger town. It is similar in Mozambique where The Police concentrate their forces near towns and where controls are really common. In this point it is worth to mention about army bariers described in another post. In Botswana and South Africa things are much more similar like they are in Europe. I mean that controls are more rare but still they are present even in national parks (i.e. we had one in Kruger NP). In Namibia we hadn’t any contact with The Police but we saw some patrols in cities.
Reasons of control
As everywhere there are two main reasons of control: a routine control and a control provoked by driver’s offence. In ZIM the routine type of control dominates. We passed over tens of them and we didn’t notice any radar speed detectors or other professional devices in officers’ hands. It is common thing that officers simply need a lift to the place of their living and that is why they stop your car. This way of hitchhiking gave us many opportunities for conversations with local people and having them onboard made next checkpoints crossings smoother and quicker. In Mozambique things look a little bit different: routine controls are often but equally often you can be stopped for speeding because The Police are equipped with speed radars. In other countries we would expect being stopped mostly because of breaking rules of the road.
What do they check?
The very first issue is your car’s condition. They don’t control it deeply – just in organoleptic way. A broken windscreen or headlight looks to be a good reason to fine you. The way of fixing of your external baggage looks to be important too. The fact that there are plenty of drivers carrying a wardrobe on the roof, with their mother-in-law and two goats sitting in the opened trunk isn’t any argument (we were fined exactly for ‘inappropriate’ carrying of fire wood). The next thing are documents and their completeness. Showing copies was accepted in most cases. Obviously your sobriety is under control too. We had this opportunity to blow into the breathanalyser in Mozambican Inhambane.
Principles of conduct
It is incredible how much can be accomplished by having a nice small talk. We hardly tried to avoid offences but at least a few times it looked like the fine is inevitable. However, showing respect and remorse to The Police, as well as being smiled and nice worked surprisingly effective. Two words in local language, something positive said about visited country, gifting a bottle of cold water to the roasted in the sun policeman helped as well. We have never bribed and for the fine we paid we were given a receipt. In case of being accosted: “What have you brought for us?” we answer jokingly that we brought smile and kindness and good will because we haven’t too much money. It worked!