SATSA and KLT have taken steps to reduce inappropriate fines levied against tourists and tour operators by traffic officers in the South African province of Mpumalanga, writes Anne Briggs.
Last year, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) Mpumalanga Chapter and Kruger Lowveld Tourism (KLT) got together with a very small delegation of very senior South African Police Services (SAPS) and traffic department officials. There were just five of us and let’s just say that the two and half hours of discussions were ‘lively’ – at times I became very lively indeed! – but by the end of the meeting we had reached agreement on a number of new approaches to counter inappropriate fines and we have some great plans.
The traffic department is now as determined as we are to return us to the corruption-free calm that we enjoyed in January 2015 (when we had six weeks without a single case of a bribe demanded from a tourist). They have a print-out of my 35 page dossier of corruption cases with areas highlighted where there is sufficient information for follow-up.
We have also implored them to appreciate that it is not for us to educate tourists not to pay bribes – it is for them to ensure that their officers don’t ask for them. I pointed out that in every other civilised country, if you offered a traffic officer a bribe, he would arrest you for trying to bribe him, whereas in South Africa it is the traffic officers who are asking for bribes and the tourists who are resisting!
From our side – and to back up the process of personally addressing all the traffic officers of the Ehlanzeni district, in which we are actively involved – we have agreed to step up once again the information we give to our tourists. So please, to make your maximum contribution, be absolutely sure that every single client that you meet receives an anti-corruption card and an explanation of what to do in the event that they are stopped and asked for cash. We have to stamp this out. We are receiving more and more reports of clients who won’t come back here and tour operators who are avoiding our area.
We shall also be phoning in reports of cases detailed enough to follow up, but we will only be able to do this when we have chase-able facts like vehicle number-plates and officers’ names. The best thing the client can do is to absolutely insist on being given a written fine on the requisite form, just as we South Africans would, because that contains all the details we need. They can then send us the fine, tell us how much the suggested bribe was and we can follow up with the officers concerned. Only that way will we identify the individuals and let them know that we are onto them, day after day, until they give up.
Remember that, whatever you might have heard, it is illegal to photograph someone without their permission. SAPS are adamant on that one.
So, another 100 000 anti-corruption cards were printed by KLT at their expense for us to distribute. We must inform tourists, we must put suggestions into our guest information packs, and we must help to find the names/numbers of the culprits. In return, we have a good rapport with traffic and SAPS who now understand the gravity of the situation and have various plans (joint and several) as to how they (and we) are going to attack the problem. This has to be a co-operative effort and we have to believe it will work. And we must do everything to forewarn our guests, without alarming them. We shall continue to pressurise the car hire companies too. And we are pursuing one case through the courts, thanks to input from The Lowvelder, Barberton and Graskop.
Let’s flood the market with the cards, and we shall also be flooding the traffic police with the cards at our briefings. SAPS will also hand them out.
There is no room for negativity here. I am hopeful, but we must keep up the pressure. It is my absolute priority. Every time I hear of a corrupt act by a traffic officer, I take it personally, so determined am I to wipe this out. And we have to get back the ‘normality’ of not having to warn tourists, because there should be no risk of corruption. That is how things should be.
If you have evidence of bribery by traffic officers in the Mpumalanga province email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more on this subject:
South Africa’s Traffic Officers Damaging Tourism
About the author: Anne Briggs is the presiding SATSA Mpumalanga Chapter Chair and owner of Mfafa Tours.