Business Day column: Yet another unlawful arrest at yet another illegal roadblock

I was arrested. At a roadblock. Not for failing to stop, being drunk, having no licence, driving an unroadworthy car or some other offence. Because I queried the legality of a roadblock. Having consulted eminent senior counsel, it seems almost all roadblocks are illegal.

This one was the favourite highway hotspot for Ekurhuleni police: ORTambo Airport’s Johannesburg exit, the least likely place for illegal driving and the best place for bribes.

I was waved on, but stopped. "Go," the metro police officer said. "No," I said. "You must." "I mustn’t." "Why?" "Because I must check your warrant." "What warrant?" "Your stop-and-search warrant." "We don’t need one." "You do — call the supervisor." "He’s not here."

So it went. A commotion ensued among the cops. They ordered me out and arrested me unlawfully. Their obnoxious colleagues, shouting abuse, manhandled me into their car. One seized my phone to delete the video I was making. They took me to the airport charge office where they presented me to their chief.

We argued ad nauseam, he asking why I was troublesome; me asking why I was arrested. I explained I would condone roadblocks if they did not cause congestion, if vehicles were pulled over without blocking lanes, if drivers were asked for licences or searches as a favour, not a right, and if they were properly authorised.

After I corrected his legal misconceptions, he subsided and said they were not properly taught. When released, I pointed out that because I was under arrest, I had to be charged. Bemused, he begged me to go.

"There’s no point, I’ll be back in 15 minutes," I said. "Why?" "Because your roadblock is still there!" He called it off.

The next time they stopped me, a cacophony of cops ran over yelling: "Not him!". On Friday, when I was stopped on the Benoni exit and asked for a R500 bribe, someone yelled: "No, let him go!" I will be back with a hidden camera so they cannot delete my evidence.

I am often arrested, such as when Johannesburg’s metro police arrested me outside Killarney Mall. They were hiding behind a wall that obscures the stop line. When drivers appeared, phony tickets were issued or bribes extracted. The police chief promised to end the scam.

Websites define motorists’ rights at roadblocks without questioning their legality. People seem to know they should not be stopped and searched as pedestrians or have homes and offices searched without warrants or "reasonable suspicion", yet they accept roadblocks unquestioningly.

Police and politicians ignore road safety and other effects of roadblocks such as motorists becoming agitated or speeding to make up for lost time.

Western Cape police boasted last week about arresting seven drunk drivers. They were 1% of those tested, an unknown fraction of untested motorists, all subjected to interrogation, delays, congestion and frustration. If SA’s 12-million vehicles were stopped monthly for 10 minutes on average, there would be 144-million stops taking 24-million hours or 2,739 years. Assuming the average motorist would pay R50 to avoid the hassle, roadblocks cost R7.2bn, the equivalent of about 72,000 RDP houses. If one in 10 pays a bribe averaging R100, 14,000 more houses are lost.

No one knows the actual numbers, but making modest assumptions and adding the cost of policing and the violation of human rights, roadblocks cost enough to replace all 2.5-million shacks with houses in a few years … and leave change for the Guptas.

  • Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation.
This article was first public in Business Day on 21 June 2017

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