Mind how you go, sir — a lesson with the South African police

June 15, 2009

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, World Cup organiser Danny Jordaan and just about everyone else involved in the 2010 finals have been playing down the risk of violence and crime in South Africa and in hundreds of reports over the last five years I have always been prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

That was until last night when I was effectively “mugged” by two uniformed police officers who demanded “pounds or dollars” before they would let me go on my way. In the end I handed over 200 rand (about 15 pounds) — and they showed their “gratitude” in the most astonishing way.

I covered the Spain-New Zealand match for Reuters in Rustenburg on Sunday evening and drove the 120-miles back to my hotel in Sandton City after the game.

I left Rustenburg at midnight, made good time without incident, dropped off my travelling companion at his hotel and was nearing Sandton when I saw a flashing light about 200 metres ahead and realised a policeman was indicating by torchlight for me to stop. I did.

After the usual pleasantries of, “How are you tonight sir,” and a check of my driving licence and passport, they quickly cut to the quick, ordered me out of the car and asked me where I had been and if I had been drinking.

I told them “Rustenburg” and no I hadn’t been drinking as I was driving. Seeing my Confederations Cup accreditation tag around my neck they asked me what I thought of the game which Spain won 5-0.

I thought we might have a plesant discussion about Fernando Torres’ 17-minute hat-trick, but they didn’t seem too bothered about that. They then asked me where I was going.

When I told them the name of my hotel, which was only about five minutes drive away, they told me I would never find it.

I told them I had a very reliable SatNav. They told me it was useless and I would get lost. Only they knew where my hotel was and after giving me directions asked me for their money.

“Where are our dollars or pounds, sir ?” they asked in a more threatening manner.

I gave them their cash and they let me go.

A minute later I saw their blue light flashing in my mirror again. This time I was rather more concerned.

They pulled me over again and the younger of the two said: “You will get lost sir,” and in no uncertain terms indicated I follow them again.

Bizarrely, they took me directly to the hotel — blue lights flashing all the way.

“Good night sir,” they shouted as the car park barrier raised, “and be careful, it is very dangerous on the roads in South Africa at night.”

You can say that again.

PHOTO: Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the Confederations Cup at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, June 14, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

14 comments

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That is shameful – those officers have let their country down. If you managed to get any further details, such as their names or officer numbers please let me know – as a proud South African I would like to pursue the matter and see that they are appropriately dealt with.

Posted by Nick | Report as abusive

Thanks for this!! Unless matters such as these are addressed and made public, expect little to change. One of the main concerns facing fans contemplating whether or not to attend World Cup 2010 is safety, and it’s too bad that even officers are contributing to the ‘dangerous’ image of S. Africa.

Not happy to read this at all! Not at all!! What an appalling thing to happen, so intimidating and so very, very scary! Glad you made it back to your hotel Mike!!
As Nick says, those officers are a total disgrace to their country, shame on them, especially at this time. It is so vital right now for the Host Nation of World Cup 2010 to be seen to be doing everything possible to allay any fears people may have about attending!
So far I’m less than impressed!

Posted by peanut | Report as abusive

[...] Reuters reporter mugged by…South African police? (Reuters Soccer Blog) [...]

Its not like its not expected !!! We all knew this happens daily and the soccer supporters from abroad are going to be very soft targets !!! Heh-heh-heh !!! Welcome to SA.Be aware,thats all you can do or stay at home.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

[...] a comment Posted by Soccer Fanatic. June 15th, 2009. 11:59 pm GMT Read more here:  Reuters Soccer Blog » Blog Archive » Mind how you go, sir — a … Share and [...]

[...] Mike Collett is a long-time SJA member and football editor of Reuters. This is his latest entry in Reuters’ world soccer blog. For more, click here. [...]

Sorry about you ordeal, Mr. Collet.
However, that is still no reason to cast doubt on assurances about violence and crime affecting the World Cup. There is corruption everywhere.

Unfortunately, I have to say you have been one of the leading scare mongers about crime and violence in SA other the past few years.

What happened to you is police corruption. It is shameful, but it gives you no excuse to insinuate that violence and crime will disrupt World Cup 2010.

On the contrary, your job as a journalist is to publicise this shameful situation and report it to the proper authorities and provide the number plates of the police car. You should not use it as an excuse to scare foreigners away from World Cup 2010…

Posted by African | Report as abusive

Dear “African”,
I don’t think you have been reading what I have written about the World Cup in South Africa. I have an affinity with this country having lived here many years ago and also have many friends here. I have excellent working relationships with both FIFA and the Local organising committee and believe they will organise a superb World Cup. The more foreigners come here the better it will be. I also feel you are being a little disingenious by implying there is no crime or violence in South Africa. As Sepp Blatter put it on Saturday: “There is violence and crime in every country in the world.”

That is one dangerous bit of road by all accounts. You might consider yourself fortunate, sir. 15 quid? bargain.

Posted by jamesy | Report as abusive

I visited Johannesburg for a single week last year … on the second day I was hijacked in a suburban driveway and was subjected to a firearm being pressed against my temple.

South Africa is a haven of corruption, murder and rape. I would suggest thinking twice before visiting in 2010.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

In response to “African” and anyone else who cares passionately about the success of the World Cup in 2010 I would like to refer you all to this blog I wrote in November 2007. I think this absolutely clarifies what I felt about the event, and still feel about it and makes it clear that African is possibly pursuing another agenda.

http://blogs.reuters.com/soccer/2007/11/ 29/expect-the-spectacular-at-south-afric a-2010/

Are you sure you weren’t speeding and were just asked for an on-the-spot fine minus the paperwork?

Posted by des | Report as abusive

Wait until Brazil in 2014. I read the other day that a group of armed bandits shut off the main road to Rio de Janeiro’s airport and robbed passing motorists at gunpoint. This happened in broad daylight on a Sunday morning. The report said something similar happened one week earlier, in the same place. In fact its quite frequent on the road which is known as the Gaza strip. The standard response of Brazilian authorities is that “crime happens in all big cities.” And they get all uppity if foreign media report it.

Posted by Erik Muscrat | Report as abusive

It saddens me very deeply to read this about the beloved country. Of course the criminal violence targetting ordinary South Africans has been going on for many years – with Blatter and company always in complete denial.

It’s totally irresponsible for FIFA to hold the WC2010 in South Africa. Right now, you’ve ‘just’ being ‘mugged’. Blatter’s own daughter was also attacked when she was in South Africa, and a top ex-footballer from Germany was murdered during the WC2010 draw in Durban, within hours of walking onto a high-security golf course. How many more deaths before Blatter stops his denialism and decides on Plan B? Stop this insane plan!

Sounds you like the cops were looking for a bribe there. Its not really a mugging and its very common.

I wish you could have reported this to the hotel/ police though. These guys would definitely have been fired.

Posted by Chifundo | Report as abusive

[...] Mind how you go, sir — a lesson with the South African police. [...]

Dear Mr Chifundo

I made a full statement to the Internal Investigation Dept of the Johannesburg Police Dept and also told the Deputy Police Minister of South Africa about the incident, Danny Jordaan, the CEO of South Africa 2010 OC and Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA.
Regards Mike