The dirty business of soliciting and accepting bribes

08th August 2017


By Keletso Thobega -

I once paid a bribe and I am ashamed because it goes against my principles and ethics. Before the ‘holier than thou goody-two-shoes’ crucify me, I can bet that if you had the option of parting with a few hundred bucks or spending a night in a smelly cell with several unwashed bodies – you would choose the former over the latter. This incident happened a few years ago after a night out of indulging in liver frying golden liquids. My flatmate was the designated driver but when it was time for us to leave, she was so sloshed that she could barely walk straight. I wheedled her to give me the keys, bundled her into the passenger side and started the car. Never mind that I had no driver’s licence and was not any less sober – I only had Dutch confidence and more. I was playing Russian roulette but who thinks properly after taking a flaming Lamborghini?! The cops stopped us after a short distance. I halted the car –swerving violently and nearly hitting an electric pole. I stepped out of the car, gave them a weak smile and babbled incoherent moonshine. When they asked, I disputed that I had taken tipple. One cop suggested that we head to the police station for a breathalyser test. It then dawned on me that I was in cow dung! When we arrived at the police station we were told that we would be charged and kept in a cell overnight. Whaat? I broke into tears and put on a performance that would have earned me an Oscar nomination, crying, begging and throwing myself onto the ground in dramatic fashion. After an hour of pleading, the two cops excused themselves and returned to give us two options: be charged and spend a night in jail or give them 200 bucks. There are no prizes for guessing what I opted for. Of course I learnt a lesson and always have a soft drink sipping designated driver. Duh! Bribing happens all around the world – whether it is solicited or offered. But there will never be justice and fairness where there is bribery. Yet in certain quarters of society, bribing is not only accepted but also expected. And what of those who can’t bribe? Most people languishing in prisons are usually the poor. Some people are nefarious by nature and can plot against another person even when that person is innocent, bo ‘tla re mo kokotele’… There are many innocent people falsely accused of one wrongdoing or some who are even languishing in jail accused of a crime they did not commit. Bribery is often associated with law enforcers for obvious reasons, but it can happen across sectors and professions – we all know a few cases but we keep quiet because we are ‘good people who mind their own businesses’. Bribing is a contentious issue because even receiving gifts can be considered as bribery. It also comes with levels. In my case, it could have been a level two bribe. Some people pay level eight and even ten bribes – mostly in politics and business – where people are bought. I once read an interesting quote that reads: ‘You could not bribe honest people but bad people could accept bribery.’ At the end of the day, as long as there is someone willing to receive a bribe, people will pay their way out of any sticky situation because the culture of chocho is embedded in our social landscape, and that is why statements like: ‘Ga o njese sengwe’ are common. In our society, when someone says: ‘Bua sengwe’… you know off the bat that they want a “drink”. Tlerere!

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