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Pan Macmillan

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How much does it cost to bribe a cop? Read an excerpt from The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers

The StreetThe Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers, by award-winning journalist Paul McNally, was recently released by Pan Macmillan.

The book documents the relationship between the police, drug dealers and shop owners on a stretch of Ontdekkers Road in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.

There are no villains. McNally finds corrupt cops, drug dealers, vigilante residents, addicts, torturers, murders and cops partnered to drug dealers. But no villains.

The book was launched at Love Books in Melville recently, where Anton Harber, ENCA Editor-in-Chief and Caxton Professor of Journalism, called it: “A remarkable piece of writing.”

 
Read an excerpt:

The shop on Ontdekkers Road is empty besides Raymond and his son, who is sitting about two metres away from his father in the corner, listening to music through his headphones. Raymond reaches for a scratched, rectangular metal box of Johnnie Walker Red and pops the top. He moves his keyboard – which is still wrapped in its original protective plastic – to the side to clear some desk space. He shakes the Johnnie Walker container and empties its contents – fuses, bolts and other collected junk – onto his newspaper and begins to sift through them. He’s hunting for a rare transistor that a customer needs for his car’s sound system. Raymond pokes at the mess he’s made on his newspaper and coughs to jiggle the phlegm in his throat. The transistor he needs isn’t among the odds and ends he’s spread out on the newspaper. Raymond sticks his neck out, the slight flab under his chin stretching taut, peering closely, picking pieces up and putting them down again. He sighs heavily and glances over at his son.

Through the tinted window Raymond can see the van, but the cops who are in it can’t see him.

‘Here’s one. Here’s one,’ Raymond says to his son, scooping the bits of plastic and metal back into the tin and pulling his newspaper closed. His son ambles over to get a better view. The cop van is parked in front of the orange security gate. It is in the exact spot where a white man in a Mercedes bought cat 20 minutes earlier and where a fidgety black couple in a silver BMW had called on their cellphones and bought an hour before that. For every dozen, maybe two dozen, users who drive up to be seen by a dealer Raymond will be rewarded with the sight of an official, marked police van. Raymond doesn’t describe a person according to their clothes, job or race. He talks in cars as identifiers – ‘Blue Tazz comes every Friday’; ‘Here’s Red Polo again’. Red Polo is the private car of a constable stationed at Brixton police station. He is a cop and an addict. Sometimes Red Polo swings past several times a week.

A dealer in a white T-shirt opens the security gate and walks towards the cop van. It is April in Johannesburg and the tar on Ontdekkers is bright, but no longer burning. The dealer stands by the cop van’s passenger side and performs the manoeuvre described by local shop owners and sources within the police with uncanny dexterity. You could miss it happening if you were a casual observer, but once it has been pointed out to you it is embarrassingly obvious. The dealer leans on the open window so that his hands are inside the car and then he drops the money on the floor. He never hands the cash directly over.

The rates for bribes are surprisingly small: R150 if there are two cops in the car and R200 if there are three or four cops in the car. Whenever they need a little money for some bread they’ll cruise by the dealers for a top-up.

The amounts might be small, but Raymond reckons ten bribes are dished out to various cop cars from three or four of the surrounding police stations every day. That’s 300 separate bribes per month. The dealers don’t ever want to refuse a cop, so the rates are kept small to ensure that cops can pull in and get a nibble whenever the impulse takes them. The dealers have schemed that if they refuse a cop he becomes an enemy, but if they reduce the amount he will continue to feed lightly and be placated. They are dealers, after all; they grasp addiction. Maybe the cop will pop by again, but his frequency will be restricted by how often he can be absent from his duties.

Before the cop has finished his transaction with the dealer Raymond is out from behind his desk and on his feet looking down Ontdekkers Road through the tinted glass.

Book details

 

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