I stopped at traffic lights on Main Street (those which intersect with Long Street). An unmarked police vehicle with Cape Town registration plates was in front of me (obviously I didn’t know it to be a Traffic cops vehicle until I was later approached by its occupants). When the lights changed to green the vehicle proceeded along Main Street at a constant speed of 20kph. It appeared to me, even at that early hour, that this was a Capetonian who was unfamiliar with the area and was looking for something on Main Street. It was still dark.
There were no parked cars on either side of the road; there was no oncoming traffic. The section of road (opposite Toyota) allows for overtaking. I pulled out, accelerating to 40kph to overtake the unmarked police car. The driver hadn’t used vehicle indicators to suggest anything other than that he was continuing along Main Street in the left hand lane. However, when I made my maneuver, the driver unaccountably moved sharply across to the right, obliging me to take evasive action, which unfortunately forced me (albeit not by very much) over the solid white line in the middle of the road. Only at that stage did the policeman use his vehicle indicators (right turn). By then my only option was to complete the maneuver. I did so safely, well within the town speed limit, without danger to either the police vehicle, or the occupants of my own vehicle.
When I stopped at the Post Office to allow one of my passengers to post his letter, we were then approached by the occupants of said unmarked vehicle. The officer who got out of his vehicle advised me, vaguely, that I was being issued with a fine for crossing the white line. Both officers were unwilling to listen to my counter claim and the driver was already writing my ticket before I had spoken to him. I doubt that this constitutes correct police protocol.
The driver of the unmarked Traffic Police vehicle left me in no doubt that he had intentionally ‘crawled’ along in front of me, in the hope that I would be lured into overtaking. Worse than that, while I was in the middle of that maneuver, and without a signal to indicate his intentions, he veered to the right, forcing me over the solid white line in the road, which then (in his judgement) translated into the nature of my ‘offense.’ In fact, were it possible, I would have issued him with a ticket, not the other way around.
I am left in little doubt that the Traffic Police used entrapment tactics in this case. Why however, should an unmarked police vehicle be cruising around town at 7.00am looking for victims of their foul play? The answer is simple and exaggerated. They are part of a new thriving business which has developed in Knysna with Municipality complicity. These ‘police’ are out from morning until night with one objective. To fleece us of our hard earned savings or income. They know that most people, accepting their fate, will just pay up and put it down to a bad day at the office, so to speak. But a R550 hole in one’s pocket for doing no wrong, is hard to swallow.
I felt I should appeal the fine. Upon the advice of someone answering the telephone of Knysna’s State Prosecutor (Mrs Henrietta Breedt), I wrote a carefully worded letter to her, and decided I would deliver this personally rather than risk the ‘we never received your letter’ line. Unexpectedly, I found myself knocking on the door of the office of Mrs Breedt herself, rather than an assistant. Before I could open my mouth, I was told, brusquely, to take my letter to the Traffic Department.
So here’s the rub. The Municipality’s Traffic Department issues instructions to Traffic Cops (whom they employ) to cruise around town issuing as many traffic fines as they can in their long working day. The unquestioning payment of such fines bolsters Municipality coffers by an amount which said Municipality does not reveal to the public. A small percentage of the victims of this bent business appeal and have their fines reduced. But even the balance payable is a valued source of income to the strapped Municipality, still struggling to pay its hyper inflated salary bill.
As for Mrs Breedt, well, one can sympathise that until recently, she had to deal with an increasing mountain of complaints from members of the public, appealing their unwarranted traffic fines. But now that the Traffic Department is taking the decision about the fairness or not of such fines, rather than an independent mind, one wonders now how far the Municipality is prepared to go with regards the corrupt income earner.
I remember once watching an old American movie which began with a man driving through a mid-West town. He was proceeding slowly, but a cop caught him and fined him for ‘speeding.’ ‘So it’s that kind of town,’ said the victim. ‘Yes,’ smiled the cop, knowing he held all the cards. If the Municipality/Traffic Cop Corporation is allowed to flourish, Knysna’s reputation as ‘that kind of town’ will soon grow.
By the way, my letter of appeal has joined a huge pile of others, reinforcing my view that things have got out of hand.
Mike Wood, the contributor of this experience, is a Knysna FM jock and author of 2 novels who resides in Belvidere.