Maverick Citizen

LOCKDOWN ABUSE

Docs and robbers: Doctors live in fear amid repeated threats, intimidation from crooked Tshwane Metro officers

Corrupt traffic cops are using lockdown curfews to target doctors as would-be “mobile ATMs” and it’s coming at the cost of patients’ lives. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)

Corrupt traffic cops are using lockdown curfews to target doctors as would-be ‘mobile ATMs’ and it’s coming at the cost of patients’ wellbeing. 

They’re predators, sitting, waiting and surveying the terrain, cunningly sizing up their prey, picking their targets and the right moments to pounce. 

This is not nature doccie stuff. This is situation on the roads and streets around Nelmapius, Pretoria. Thugs within the ranks of Tshwane Metro Police — even known to the Tshwane Metro Police Department (TMPD) as “a few of our members [who] might commit errors and be involved in bribery allegations” who lie in wait on quiet stretches of road, where there are no streetlights. 

They cherry-pick expensive cars on the road, preferably with a single occupant — better still if it’s a woman. They force these motorists to pull over and use aggression, bullying and threats. And it’s to extract bribes.

Their tactics are designed to hide their identities. They operate mostly at night, shine torches in motorists’ eyes, wear buffs, stand in front of vehicle registration plates and markers and cover their name badges. 

Corrupt traffic officers are a familiar enough story and not unique to Tshwane. But in this spate of incidents, the targets are doctors responding to emergencies, and they say incidents have shot up coinciding with Covid lockdown curfews. 

*Dr M had her third and most recent run-in with thug cops in May this year near the Mediclinic Midstream. It was just after 11pm when she received a call of a dire medical situation to intubate a 900g baby. Two paediatric surgeons had already failed before she was called.

“It is one of the most stressful procedures for an anaesthetist but I was more stressed out that I might find the traffic cops on my way to the hospital,” says Dr M. 

As she predicted, she did encounter the traffic cops. She was stuck in a single lane behind a security vehicle moving slowly doing regular surveillance. 

“I saw the traffic cops but put on my hazards and overtook on the solid white line because it was an emergency. The cops followed me but didn’t indicate for me to pull over even though I passed a service station. Only when I turned into a quiet stretch of road and when the security vehicle was no longer there did they turn on their lights and sirens.

“I decided to put foot and drove like a bat out hell to the hospital that wasn’t far away. I had to stop at the entrance boom to swipe my access card and that’s when a female traffic cop jumped out of the car and started screaming at me. I told her I had a patient waiting and she kept screaming,” says Dr M.

The officer reached into the open car window and grabbed Dr M by the neck; that’s when Dr M pulled off and drove to the doctor’s emergency parking area with the traffic cops in tow. 

Both officers got out of their vehicle and blocked her access into the hospital, screaming that she was not going anywhere till they were done. They threatened to arrest her.

“That’s when I lost it and told them to arrest me but if the baby died, it would be on their heads. I’m usually so polite and calm when I’m stopped by cops because know you have to lick their butts even when you’ve done nothing wrong because they’re on a power trip,” she says.

She pushed her way past the cops when the hospital’s casualty officer arrived, alerted by the commotion.

“I asked him to deal with the cops and rushed to my patient but I was sobbing and shaking by that time I got to neonatal. I was in such a state and now had to go intubate this baby,” she says.

Another doctor, *Dr C, says she and her colleagues have resorted to driving to and from emergencies in scrubs and with stethoscopes around their necks. 

“You want them to see that you’re a doctor and that you’re working, but it doesn’t help and this is getting out of hand,” she says of the flood of stories and growing frustration and outrage on their doctors’ groups about the TMPD.

Dr C says doctors are not expecting special treatment as regular motorists but in emergency situations, they should not be unnecessarily delayed. Stop-start proposals for doctors to be allowed to have an emergency flashing light to attach to their personal vehicles for emergencies have been shelved as Covid-19 responses have shifted everything else to a lesser priority.

Weeks after South Africa’s first lockdown last year, the South African Society of Anaesthesiologists issued their members with decals to stick to their cars for work outside of curfew hours. But doctors say the traffic cops give it no heed and their bullying tactics begin on the road, way before they get close enough to see the displayed decal.

The decal didn’t help much for *Dr A when she was stopped coming off Solomon Mahlangu Drive in early June, it was within curfew times, just after 8pm. 

“I drove past the TMPD vehicle, they could see that I was a woman by myself and I’m in a big car. They put on their lights and sirens and I thought they wanted to pass because I hadn’t done anything wrong. 

“I pulled over and called my husband immediately because we live about 1km away. The two officers came to my window and banged on my windscreen and window with batons they both had. They shined a torch in my face and one officer had a buff pulled to just under his eyes so you couldn’t see his face. 

“One of them screamed at me ‘must I stand here waiting for you to finish talking on the phone?’. The tone, the body language — it was definitely not a routine traffic check. When I said I was phoning my husband to come through they said ‘just go’,” she says. 

For *Dr L, the high levels of aggression and tactics to intimidate have become the norm. On a recent occasion, she says she was asked to produce not just her essential services permit but also her doctor’s registration certification and even a marriage certificate. 

Dr L adds: “There is a definite culture of aggressive behaviour and it’s always a game of intimidation with the TMPD. From my own experience of a bike attack in 2016 I know police are ineffective in investigating — they lose dockets, open new dockets and delayed the case for 18 months,” she says. 

Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba, spokesperson for TMPD, acknowledges the “few misbehaving cops” in his ranks but says their officers are “fully trained and they know very well how to deal with any situations they come across”. He also said doctors had to carry their permits and had to comply with traffic officers’ instructions. He didn’t answer questions on how well officers are trained to recognise when doctors are legitimately responding to emergencies and to assist accordingly.  

He says investigations and disciplinary action of corrupt metro cops do take place successfully. Most recently he says is the case of nine members of the Tshwane Metro Police arrested and now facing further disciplinary action.

Mahamba sidestepped written questions about what measures TMPD has in place to restore public trust. Concern for their safety is the primary reason motorists are reluctant to stop immediately when instructed to do so, preferring to drive to where other people can act as witnesses. 

Metro police do fall under the jurisdiction of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). IPID spokesperson Ndikela Cola could, however, only advise that motorists take down as many details of incidents as they can and film and record their interactions if possible. 

Andre Bouwer, a resident in the Nelmapius area, says motorists are getting irate enough to organise and demand action. He started a community action group earlier in the year “to do something other than complain”. He started with seven members and he’s now set up his third Whatapp group (each group allows a maximum of 256 members).

Bouwer says the group numbers “exploded” in line with growing concerns over, not just crime and security, but what he says, is a clear pattern of people being stopped by Tshwane Metro Police officers who subject drivers to intimidation, extortion and bribery. Motorists are being treated like “mobile ATMs”, he says.

Bouwer says the experiences of the doctors are similar to raised issues that dominate his groups. Bouwer says the action group is stepping up pressure for action against police intimidation through their ward councillors, by meeting with senior TMPD officials and ensuring motorists know their rights. 

“We encourage motorists to use ‘safe stops’ — driving to a petrol forecourt or where there are people around and possibly CCTV cameras. People have a right to ask for an officers’ identification and they don’t need to get out of a car. They should never pay a bribe even when they are threatened with being put in jail for a weekend — there is a procedure for arrest,” he says. DM/MC

*The Tshwane Metro Police says motorists should report misconduct by their members on 012 358 7095/6 and 083 657 2998.

*The names of the doctors interviewed withheld for safety concerns.

 

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    • Unfortunately, this type of thuggery is led by the senior people. The only solution is to lock them all up and throw the key away.

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