Police in South Africa are cracking down on motorists who drive while drunk. And the government is debating harsher penalties for drunk drivers as road death rates climb. At the same time, members of the public are accusing the police of extorting bribes from them, and assaulting them, for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.
A woman hands her car keys to a designated driver outside a Johannesburg bar. She called the Scooter Angels to get her home safely after drinking more wine than expected.
A woman (left) hands her car keys to Scooter Angels driver Blessing Mhango. Growing numbers of South Africans are using services such as his, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2015. (photo: D. Taylor)
Owner Jeremy de Goede says there’s been a “big spike” in demand recently.
"The traffic department enforcing the no drinking and driving laws, with more roadblocks; you know they’re clamping down, becoming more stringent, and that’s obviously good for [my] business,” said de Goede.
De Goede says people in South Africa are more aware of the dangers of drunk driving; but, he adds, many of his Johannesburg clients also say they want to avoid being hassled by Metro Police. Motorists say police demand bribes and threaten to jail them.
A young woman stands at a busy intersection. She was recently involved in a minor collision with another vehicle.
Soon after that, she says, a Metro Police vehicle arrived.
“And the next thing another one arrived and another one and another one. In the end there were probably about 12 Metro cars with about 24 officers on the scene," she said. "Things turned very ugly, very fast.”
This young woman, who asked to remain anonymous, alleges the Metro Police assaulted her and accused her of driving drunk, at this intersection in Johannesburg, Sept. 11, 2015. (VOA / D. Taylor)
She asked VOA to disguise her voice.
She says the officers swore at her, and screamed that she was drunk. A breathalyzer test showed she wasn’t above the legal blood alcohol limit.
Then, the woman says, they surrounded her and pushed her.
“Eventually I had a panic attack," she said. "They just kept making me blow in the breathalyzer as if they weren’t happy with the result that their machine was giving them. And all the while they have their hands on their firearms.”
The Metro Police say they take all allegations made against officers seriously and will investigate them if reported.