Reporter’s highway shake-down in South Africa

From Mike Collett, Reuters, in South Africa
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, World Cup organiser Danny Jordaan and just about everyone else involved in the 2010 finals have been playing down the risk of violence and crime in South Africa and in hundreds of reports over the last five years I have always been prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

That was until last night when I was effectively “mugged” by two uniformed police officers who demanded “pounds or dollars” before they would let me go on my way. In the end I handed over 200 rand (about 15 pounds) — and they showed their “gratitude” in the most astonishing way.

I covered the Spain-New Zealand match for Reuters in Rustenburg on Sunday evening and drove the 120 miles back to my hotel in Sandton City after the game.

I left Rustenburg at midnight, made good time without incident, dropped off my travelling companion at his hotel and was nearing Sandton when I saw a flashing light about 200 metres ahead and realised a policeman was indicating by torchlight for me to stop. I did.

After the usual pleasantries of, “How are you tonight sir,” and a check of my driving licence and passport, they quickly cut to the quick, ordered me out of the car and asked me where I had been and if I had been drinking.

I told them “Rustenburg” and no I hadn’t been drinking as I was driving. Seeing my Confederations Cup accreditation tag around my neck they asked me what I thought of the game which Spain won 5-0.

I thought we might have a plesant discussion about Fernando Torres’ 17-minute hat-trick, but they didn’t seem too bothered about that. They then asked me where I was going.

When I told them the name of my hotel, which was only about five minutes drive away, they told me I would never find it.

I told them I had a very reliable SatNav. They told me it was useless and I would get lost. Only they knew where my hotel was and after giving me directions asked me for their money.

“Where are our dollars or pounds, sir?” they asked in a more threatening manner.

I gave them their cash and they let me go.

A minute later I saw their blue light flashing in my mirror again. This time I was rather more concerned.

They pulled me over again and the younger of the two said: “You will get lost sir,” and in no uncertain terms indicated I follow them again.

Bizarrely, they took me directly to the hotel — blue lights flashing all the way.

“Good night sir,” they shouted as the car park barrier raised, “and be careful, it is very dangerous on the roads in South Africa at night.”

You can say that again.

Mike Collett is a long-time SJA member and football editor of Reuters. This is his latest entry in Reuters’ world soccer blog. For more, click here.

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