by Matt Edwards
We live in an age where a pizza gets to your home before the police. It’s sad, but it’s true. Now, I have the utmost respect for the South African Police Service. To most extents I even hold the Grahamstown Police Service in high regard. While there are obvious problems with the authorities in this country, I’d still like to allow the police service the authority they deserve. But to put it bluntly, the cops in this town are assholes.
I was arrested for car theft last week. How many people can say that about their day? But seriously. I was stopped on African Street without my license on me. Fair enough, fine me. But no, instead the cops radioed in my license plates, I was told that my car, my bombed-out 1988 kotch-coloured station wagon, was stolen and on the spot I was read my rights and arrested.
I was placed in a holding cell for ten minutes, and then marched off to some obscure office somewhere. They then informed me that neither my engine nor my chassis numbers corresponded to their records. I was also told that my engine has been reported stolen 11 times in the last five years (keep in mind that the car has been in my family’s possession for the last 20 years). Inspector Kevin Pillay told me that I was being charged with theft, fraud and being in possession of stolen goods, and “you’re looking at about 50 years in jail, buddy”.
Obviously, I shat myself. I was held in police custody for almost four hours before the vehicle unit came to inspect the car. They reported back that, actually, all the details were fine and the police had just made one royal stuff-up. Now you can’t tell a man he’s going to jail for pretty much the rest of his life, and expect him to be okay with it.
All this time, I was never offered any opportunity to explain myself. I was shouted at and shunted around by an angry, foul-smelling, middle-aged, overweight man simply because he got his facts wrong. I received an apology for none of this. I wasn’t even given a phone call. And these fine specimens of society are the supposed guardians of our well-being?
Now, I don’t have a gripe against the service itself. The police as an institution are a necessary part of running this country. In all fairness, you may think this country is in a dire situation now, but imagine that with no police forces. I have to mention that all the administrative staff at the Grahamstown police station struck me as helpful, concerned people. But the uniforms that circle our suburbs and keep our streets ‘safe’ personify arrogance, egotism and all-round annoyance.
The depressing part is that I have no conclusion to this column. I honestly can think of no ways to rectify the situation. If anyone else thinks they might have a solution, please let me know. What I do know, though, are the words of Charles de Gaulle: Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.