I was fined for speeding on our way to Iringa for Go Conference. I wasn’t speeding. I knew I was in a 50 zone and I was watching the speedo carefully.
I was so surprised to be pulled over that I even asked the guy holding the speed gun if it was was calibrated properly, which I wouldn’t normally do, since our usual practice is not to argue with police. He assured me the technology was in tip top working order. He showed me the camera attached to his speed gun which had a picture of our car on it and a reading of 57kph.
Then while another guy was writing out my ticket and I was getting money ready to pay the fine, I heard this exchange.
Police officer: Hey, let’s do these guys. [Indicates approaching traffic]
Guy with speed gun: Yes boss.
Police officer: [Holds up arm to pull over approaching car]
Guy with speed gun: [Snaps picture] What should I say?
Police officer: Say it’s 60.
Guy with speed gun: OK. [Types on speed gun]
Police officer, to driver of now pulled-over car: You were speeding. This is a 50 zone and you were doing 60.
I have no idea what program they were using on that speed gun, but it was crystal clear to me that they were making those speeds up in order to fine people.
And they had that conversation right in front of me. They knew I understood what they were saying – we’d been having quite a good chat in Swahili prior to this. They were quite unconcerned.
We’ve seen schemes like this before but never have I seen it so brazenly articulated. We are often pulled over on false charges but normally everyone plays along with the illusion of legality. Yet this time the speed gun guy explicitly told me that this was a ‘Christmas fine’.
Actually it’s not the illegality of the situation that I find the most difficult. The hardest thing is the experience of powerlessness. Everyone in this situation knew that I was being accused falsely and fined for an offence I did not commit, and yet even an admission of that does not matter. (This is one reason why I believe having a dash-cam or similar would not help.)
Who is in the right is irrelevant; the question is who has the power, and the answer is, not me!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.