There are many stories that I have heard, mainly second & third hand, about what happens when you get stopped, whilst driving, by the police in South Africa. I had been driving in KwaZulu Natal and beyond the province for many years before my first encounter with the police. Hang on, thinking back as I write this there was an early encounter, but I was not actually stopped. Driving down the north coast highway, in Zululand, somewhere close to the turn off for the town of Empangeni, I passed a speed trap consisting of multiple officers armed with various speed guns. My co-pilot & father-in-law, who was fast asleep, comatose like next to me, woke like a man possessed and demanded I stop the car. I pulled over about 500 meters down from where several police were congregated. Under instruction I got out of the car and walked back up the hard shoulder to them. In my best & most polite English accent I asked the most important looking one of the group “Excuse me sir, terribly sorry to bother you, but may I ask, did you just catch me in your speed trap”? The short, grey haired, sun kissed and clearly hot & bothered senior man, took his hat off & looked me up & down. Now, I do not speak Afrikaans, but I did pick up a few select words, shouted at me, and added to his arm waving & pointing, it was clear he was not interested in me. I thanked him for his time and casually walked back down the hard shoulder to the car.
On one trip, over a three-week period, I was stopped three times. The first time being in another well organised speed trap, the second and third random highway stops. It was during my first encounter that I stumbled into a winning chat with a young officer.
I am driving at about 110kms an hour on a deserted single lane road between the towns of Vryheid and Pongola in northern KwaZulu Natal. The scenery up here is big, rolling hill after rolling hill for miles & miles. As I drive, I am taking in, and enjoying, my surroundings and the vast open landscapes. A well, I am always on the look out for birds. Birds of prey mainly, eagles perched on telephone poles, buzzards or vultures soaring over me. Melanie, my wife, thinks birding & driving is on a parr with drinking & driving, but that could be another story. On this occasion to, although alone, I was deep conversation. “Sawubona, unjani, Igama lami nginguMark, Ngivela eNgilandi” I replied to the ‘Teach yourself Zulu’ CD playing in my car. OK, there was a case here for being slightly distracted. Then it happened, out stepped the traffic policeman into the road, waving me to pull over.
I wound the window down. “Good morning officer, what seems to be the problem” I said, ressiting the urge to try out any of my new Zulu. “Are you aware you were speeding sir?” was the simple reply. As I probably was not paying full attention there was a very good chance I was. “The speed limit here is 80kms per hour, ID & drivers licence please sir” was the request from the young policeman. On reading my licence, “English, you are English, but you travel alone, do you have a wife?” Here was my opportunity, sad face installed, crokey upset voice, much like phoning in sick, when not sick from work. “My wife is with her parents, I am just taking a few days away from her, sort of a holiday, she will be devistated to know I have been in trouble with the police. Please sir tell me I am not in trouble” We spoke of the importance of family before I was asked the golden question. “Are you a soccer fan?” “Sir I am a Leeds United fan” I answered. His face erupted with joy and the excitement accompanied his words” Lucas Radebe, Phil Masinga, Leeds, Bafana Bafana….” I am no expert but all of sudden we were mates, bound together by the mighty Leeds United. We sat on the bonnet of our cars talking football for around half an hour. I asked if I could take his photograph so I could show other Leeds fans at home. “Only if my partner can be in the photos to” he said. Partner, I had not seen anyone else? He undid the back door of his police car, and there she was, fast alseep. “It had been an early start” he explained. After the photos we shook hands & hugged and I got back into to my car, smiled and waved goodbye as I headed on my way towards Pongola. My next two encounters went much the same way. As for the speeding fine, it never came. There is a bond amongst fans of the mighty Leeds United.