This blog was first published in The Mercury on Monday 17th March 2014
Recently, I found myself driving my family through Swaziland. Now if you believe all you read about this neighbor of ours you will be aware that its roads are a mess, it is corrupt to the core and that King Mswati has run (some would say robbed) the place into the ground.
I personally love Swaziland. Apart from one or two bad patches, the roads are generally in good repair, the people are friendly and the place is really rather attractive.
But having read all I had about high levels of corruption in this squat little kingdom, I braced myself for a fight when a traffic officer leapt out in front of me with his hand raised aloft. I was uncertain about which law of their land I had violated and this caused me to brace further.
“Good morning Sir,” said the official officially. I greeted him suspiciously.
“You yielded at a stop street,” said the cop.
“Oh,” said I looking in my rearview mirror and noticing a stop sign obscured by an acacia tree.
He looked down at his book and then back at me, waited a second or two and said gently: “We can sort this out here if you wish.”
“Gotcha you little bugger!” I thought to myself. “I knew there was a ‘deal’ in the pipeline and there it is.”
Being a ‘zero tolerancer’ when it comes to corruption, I thought I would corner him: “And what options do I have if I don’t wish to ‘sort this out here?’” I said with a knowing, self righteous little smirk.
“Well then we can go to the magistrate’s court and you can sort it out there.”
Now having said all I have about Swaziland I certainly didn’t relish the idea of a day in a Swazi court. I had hoped he would realize his little racket was bust and wave me on but this one was clearly a fighter.
“If I pay the fine here will you issue me with a receipt?” This felt like the most responsible way forward; one that would circumvent the need for a drawn-out family outing to the local court.
“Please get out of the vehicle and come with me,” said the policeman abruptly.
I must admit I was beginning to feel less brave now. So you can imagine my surprise when the man led me to his police vehicle and gestured to a small but very neat mobile office set up on the boot of his car. There was a Parker pen resting on an official Swazi Government receipt book, and a cash ledger on which was placed a box with cash placed neatly inside.
The man clocked my surprise and clearly reading my mind said: “Sir, I do not take bribes. You broke one of our laws and you must either pay the fine or explain to the magistrate why you believe you shouldn’t have to.”
Had I not been so well informed on corruption in Africa I would have fallen for this little Mr Good Guy routine. But my finely tuned corruption-busting senses – honed from years of listening to South African braai-side bravado about who had pulled off the bravest bribe of an official – told me that this was all part of his little game. By getting me out of my car and showing me his oh-so-professional office set up, he had cunningly upped the ante and would now sting me for a grand or more assuming this quivering little South African would pay whatever necessary to get back on the road.
“The fine is R60 sir.”
I starred at the man disbelieving for several seconds; “Excuse me – what was that?”
“The fine is R60,” he repeated this time a little slower, “and I will give you a receipt from this book,” he said pointing down at his official receipt book.
I slowly took out R60 and handed it over to the man. He took down all my details, gave me a receipt and put the money in his cash box. He then looked at me and said; “you may do corruption in South Africa sir – but we don’t do it here in Swaziland. Have a safe journey.”
Back on the road – and still bemused by the incident – I wondered at just how far gone I am – we are – as a society; we default to thinking the worst of others especially those in positions of authority; guilty until proven innocent has become our unspoken motto and believing the best of others has become an antiquated and naïve notion.
Some would believe this is a symptom of living in a country steeped in corruption. But could the opposite possibly be the case: that we are as corrupt as we are precisely because we expect nothing better of one another?
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysen: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.