SMOKE: Can You Be Bribed?

Originally published: 24 February 2004

South Africa's special police task force - the Scorpions - recently raided a house in Germiston and picked up R8-million worth of smuggled perlemoen which was being processed for export.

They arrested a chappie in connection with it, and later came back for four more guys who apparently attempted to bribe the Scorpions to get out of prosecution.

They reportedly offered the arresting officers R176,000 to shut their traps, and to their eternal credit the Scorpions proved incorruptible.

Firstly - how nice to hear a story about police who were not corrupted. The only press we ever get with regards bribery is when some cop is hauled in for accepting one. Clear proof that there are still decent police officers around.

Yet I do wonder what I would have done if I were the arresting officer. It's very easy to sit here and say I would never, ever accept a bribe, but knowing myself that would probably be untrue.

Bribery was big when I was a student (which means in all likelihood it still is today), and I remember numerous occasions when bribes were offered to traffic cops and the like.

On one occasion I was driving around the streets of Grahamstown on a cold night during the Festival in a car filled with like minded thugs, and we were toking down on a serious carrot as we drove. Someone lost the matches and the slowboat went out, so we cruised around looking for someone to get a light from.

We were pretty wasted (as is the custom in Grahamstown), but we didn't realise quite how trashed we were until we stopped next to a bloke who was standing on the side of the road and asked him for a light, with me waving the joint in his face by way of explanation.

A second glance at him revealed that he was dressed in full police uniform, but by then it was too late. I laughed nervously, narrowly avoiding a complete fit of the giggles (they grow some serious stuff in that inland region), and dug the hole deeper by telling him that if we could have a light he could have a puff.

It was my Big Moment of Bribery, and I was lucky - the cop shook his head on both counts, tried to suppress the grin and told us to be on our way. Someone in the back said: "Make like Norris and chuck" - and we did. We chucked.

I've often thought fondly of that copper - I have no idea why he didn't arrest us, but I suspect he had either been there himself once upon a time, or was simply a kindly and understanding bloke.

He saw what we were - a bunch of mad-for-it students experiencing a wild but harmless way of life, caught up in the 60s-like euphoria that takes over when you experience freedom in ways you had never imagined - and probably reckoned a rogering by some Bubba in the Grahamstown Dungeons would have done us more harm than good.

The curious thing about that incident was that I have never tried to bribe someone again. So instead of turning me into a Prison Wife With Issues, that fine officer ensured that I learned a major lesson and still came out of the whole thing intact.

How did I learn a lesson? Well - have you ever tried Swazi Red? If so - have you ever tried it, got off your face, and during your most intense state asked a policeman if he wanted to share a slowboat with you?

If so - you'll understand the paranoia that can set in, and for the rest of that night it was all I could think about. I realised I had been given a chance, and that breaks come your way very rarely in life. I made use of my let-off by never bribing anyone again - my payment back to that policeman.

I hope he retires happy, with a fine-looking wife by his side and a row of medals upon his chest. He's special, that Grahamstown cop.

But if the roles had been reversed - dude - I would have been in that car quicker'n you could say Maui Wowee, and dragging that shit into recesses of my lungs ne'er yet touched by air nor smoke.

But I guess most cops don't join the force to hop into student jalopies and spend their nights getting wasted on SA's Finest. Perhaps it's just me.

I guess being bribable means you lack belief in the organisation you are working for, or it's greater aims. Money is a powerful seductress, particularly for those who don't have much of it, and when you're doing a job which you are not passionate about it must be pretty easy to take a bit on the side.

I have a mate who relates a story about his uncle who lived in Kuils River (a suburb of Cape Town) back in the apartheid days of South Africa. This guy would regularly shunt through to Cape Town on the N2 in his bakkie and was frequently stopped for speeding.

On the seat next to him he had a permanent cardboard sleeve which housed a bottle of brandy, and my mate reckons whenever his uncle was stopped he would haul out the brandy and be on his way within minutes, after a polite "gesprekkie" (conversation).

It worked every time. All it took was a bottle of brandy and the Constable would be on his way and suiping in the bushes alongside the highway as the bakkie left strips of smoking rubber on the tarmac.

Everyone was happy. Nobody died. No little children were harmed. Two people who would otherwise have had a crap night had a good one, and the world turned once more in its sleep, none the wiser.

I guess it comes down to priorities - if nobody is going to get hurt, go for it. Give a bloke a borrel of brannewyn and gas that V8 all the way to town.

But if someone will be harmed by your actions, or if some greater cause will be defeated, then it becomes a test of your moral fibre. Can you willingly and knowingly screw people over, for personal gain?

If so - go for it. It's your life.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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