Metro cops on road to nowhere as many are unsure about what they actually do

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The night Mpho Moerane died, the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department staged an impromptu funeral procession past his house in Johannesburg northern suburbs. It was a nice gesture for a man who had once been executive mayor of the City of Gold.

On clips posted to social media, the procession, two vehicles abreast down the suburban road; fast pursuit BMWs and VWs with vangwa Toyota bakkies in the rear, were led by three cops on big bikes. It would be churlish to begrudge these officers their opportunity to pay their former political master their last respects, but this wasn’t his funeral, just a drive by.

For many of us, it’s not really clear what the JMPD actually does. Yes, many of us have been caught in a suburban choke point down the William Nicol or Rivonia Road, as legions of the blue and khaki clad officers, their gaudy vehicles in the colours of the old apartheid flag parked to the side, flag down cars to peer at licence discs and pull off whoever takes their fancy for a third degree, which might even include having to proffer an expired licence.

But once you’re clear of the rolling roadblock, there’s no guarantee drivers won’t break laws. As for the taxis, there’ll still be those with no lights, monkey wrenches for steering wheels and a praying hand motif on the cracked back window for brakes. If the JMPD actually worked, rather than appearing to be the rent seeking operation that speed cops have historically been in this country, there would be far greater respect for the bylaws and highway code and far less skorokoros on the actual road, hazards to themselves and the rest of us.

The one place where the JMPD could have been a huge help – that Thursday night and probably every night since, would have been on point duty at the intersections that would have been load shed. It’s so bad, that most of that convoy would have had to use their blue lights and sirens to have got to Moerane’s house on time in any case.

There were 16 vehicles in that procession. Two cops apiece. That’s 16 major intersections that could have been assisted during load shedding, not counting the ones like the one on Beyers Naude just down the road from Lifestyle that took the City of Johannesburg six weeks to even fix when there was power.

Not so long ago, directing traffic was what traffic cops did. It was a massive service. It kept the cops literally on the ground, with their radios, to alert their colleagues to any infractions they saw in real time. Nowadays, in a great public private partnership, Outsurance has actually trained and paid for pointsmen and women to pitch up whenever there is a crisis. They’re still there, but the problem is it’s now so big that vagrants and beggars do the work too, jumping into the middle of streets to direct traffic. 

And the shiny Oranje Blanje Blou cars? They’re reserved for funerals and freelance fines obviously. Is this what a world class African city looks like?

Originally published in the Saturday Star on 28 May 2022.