The Face of Corruption

Corruption’s ugly face – a personal account

On tow by corruption
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Meeting corruption face-to-face when my car broke down on my way home last weekend taught me that corruption could inflate your bill by more than 200%. But I also learnt that it is possible to fight back.

A mishap with my car that should have cost no more than R1 050 ended up with a demand for R3 250. I was lucky to escape after paying R1 450 after a fight-back.

A relaxed Sunday gone wrong

It all started early on Sunday night on the way back from a relaxed family afternoon with friends.

A kilometre or three on our way home, around 20:00, on a main arterial through an industrial area,   my nearly 20-year-old German car’s engine suddenly died. I rolled to a stop in the emergency lane and switched on hazards.   

I got out of the car to take a look under the hood at the assembly of steel, wire and electronic boxes – knowing from prior experience there was little I could do.

With great relief, knowing we were stuck an area known to be “not too safe”, within minutes I saw a police vehicle behind us.

The friendly male and female officer enquired whether we were okay and whether they could help.

The female officer offered to phone a friend and colleague, who is also a mechanic, to come and take look. An offer I gratefully accepted.

Next moment a tow truck stopped in front of us and we told the driver we were waiting for someone to come and have a look at my car.

Then, a second tow truck, displaying the signage of a well-known and reputable towing company with a man (let’s call him Mr Tow Truck) and a woman – who later turned out to be his wife – stopped on the scene.

They were on first-name terms with the two police officers and started chatting away.

Slightly after 21:00 a second police vehicle arrived – the mechanic policeman and a colleague, who immediately turned their attention to the car, asking me to try and turn the ignition once or twice.

Two more police vehicles arrived and now there were eight police officers on the scene and two tow truck operators. While the first tow truck driver mostly remained standing next to his truck, the rest of the assembly took on the atmosphere of a re-union of old friends.

An offer and a choice

Approaching 22:00, the “mechanic policeman” announced that there had to be some problem with the current supply to the coil of the car – he couldn’t fix it. It had to be attended to by a specialist with the necessary equipment.

One of the police officers offered that the car could be towed to the nearest police station, where some of them were based, to be kept there for the night until I could get someone to fix it in the morning.

I phoned my friend of whom we had taken our leave some three hours earlier. He offered to fetch my family and in the morning contact the workshop where his cars had been looked after for many years.

Next, I was confronted with the choice of which tow-in operator should take the car to the police station. I went for the one with the signage of the company I know and who was an obvious friend of the police officers. The cost was R450, but I did not have the cash on me and promised an EFT when I got home.

I was then presented with an invoice, the letterhead of which did not correspond to the signage on the truck and with the bank details hand-written on the back. By this time, I was in a hurry to get my daughter home for some sleep before school started on Monday morning, and did not give the invoice proper thought.

My friend and his wife had by now arrived in two separate cars so that we could take one home. Everyone went on their merry way and we got home around 23:30.      

The ‘real payment’ arrives

In the early hours of Monday morning, I made the promised payment and had it electronically confirmed to Mr Tow Truck.  

Next came a call from Mr Tow Truck telling me “the captain” at the police station would not allow them to leave the car there overnight. He took it to his home for storage and he has a mechanic friend who could fix the car for me.

In a hurry to get things done, I accepted his offer and agreed to meet him halfway between our homes to hand him the key to my car and pay him R1 000 in cash to get it fixed.

Later he called to tell me the problem turned out to be more complicated than he thought, and more tests needed to be done. Among other things, he told me the “coding on the car’s computer for the ignition key” needed to be “reset”.

He demanded a further R1 800 and on my request gave me his address.

Realising a real problem was developing, I phoned the police officer who first came to our assistance the previous night. I had taken his name and number, planning to get signed copies of my book Babalaas to Hell to him and his colleague to say thank you.

I told him what was happening and his response was that “Mr Tow Truck must not start with his nonsense. I will phone him and ‘sort him out’.”

My friend, in the meantime, had made arrangements with the formal workshop he uses and we went to Mr Tow Truck’s home to ask him to take the car to the workshop.

The matter about payment “would be sorted out as soon as I can” and he

presented me with three further invoices, including a new one for the original towing to the police station and coming on top of the R1 000 cash he already had, totalling R3 250. These, however, were from an invoice book one buys at any stationery store – no letterhead or stamp of any company. In the space for “Terms” was written “Cash”.

Almost hourly cell phone calls followed from Mr Tow Truck and his wife, asking when they would be paid. Every time I told them that I needed some time to sort things out.

Intimidation started

Soon after the car was delivered to the legitimate workshop, I received a SMS from Mr Tow Truck informing me he had the police with him and unless I paid soon they were going to fetch my car and take it into storage where it would be stored at my cost, until I paid them.

Within an hour or two the workshop owner phoned to say the problem had been located – a “relay” that was malfunctioning and would be replaced. I could fetch my car the next morning, which was Wednesday.

The cost involved was only R350!

When I collected my car, parked in front of the workshop on a cul-de-sac in an industrial area, the owner said someone came in there claiming they had seen the car and recognised it as mine.

Fight-back time

A string of further SMSs and calls followed to tell me Mr Tow Truck’s patience was running out. During a restless Wednesday night I realised the so-called recognition of my car was really a message, from whomever, that they knew who I was.

Thursday morning there was another call and two SMSs. But I had my car functioning perfectly back home and I’ve had enough. It was time to fight back.

By accident I know family of the man (Mr X) who owns the company whose signage was on the tow truck. I got his number and phoned him, told the story and the possibility to file formal charges and complaints with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

He confirmed that he knew Mr Tow Truck, that he worked for him and obviously was running a show of his own. He would sort it out, he said and asked me to tell Mr Tow Truck, if he called again, that I had spoken to Mr X and made arrangements with him.

After we had rung off, my cell phone rang. It was Mr Tow Truck and I gave him the message.

By the time of writing it was Sunday afternoon and there has been no further word from Mr Tow Truck. I have paid at least R1 000 too much, but by fighting back have saved R1 450, Mr Tow Truck is without a job and some police officers will hopefully think twice before they get involved with someone like him in future.

by Piet Coetzer

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