I was walking up Bree Street in the Johannesburg CBD last Saturday in the midst of heavy pedestrian activity, which I sometimes jokingly refer to as “the gold rush”. It’s so fascinating that some of us have ventured into many corners of eGoli, or Gauteng, but we are yet to see the proverbial gold that we often heard of while growing up in the rural parts of South Africa. Anyway, that is a funky mystery we can explore someday, if you will.
As I negotiated my way through the swarming street, three straight-face members of the South African Police Service who were keen to know whether I had a passport on me suddenly stopped me. Of all the people on that congested street, they randomly chose to have a word with a few others and me.
Perplexed by their line of questioning, I shivered in fear thinking that maybe there must’ve been an announcement I probably missed which publicly warned people not to walk around Johannesburg without this document in hand.
“E kae passport (where is your passport)?” one of them asked.
“Passport? Ya eng (what for)?” I replied, and then his serious face melted down to joviality. His follow up question, accompanied by a grin, required knowing where in the country I came from.
When these three men in blue left me standing, torrents of questions rained upon me, inspiring me to pen this letter to you, our beloved enforcers of law and order, in the hope that your answers will quench this overwhelming curiosity that burdens me:
- Does anyone walking the streets of Johannesburg have to carry their identity document, or, in this case, a passport all the time?
- Could I have missed a public announcement of this metropolitan stop-and-search operation?
- What happens to those who are found not in possession of their passports or ID’s?
- Would you take any curious member of the public on an orientation of this policing process upon request?
- Could I be unknowing that it is a crime to go around without any form of ID on oneself?
I ask these questions because I honestly do not know and I’m hoping, with my fingers crossed, that you can share this important information with the less-informed types like me.
To be precise, I’m curious to know the nature of this crime, its name and complementary punishment.
While at it, I hope you will do me, desperate as I am, a favour by explaining the method you use to identify your suspects i.e. people who erroneously go about town without carrying their IDs or passports.
Seeing that I was apparently a suspect myself, I’m also curious to know what vindicated me from suspect degree down to the level of innocence.
My seeking to know your method of identifying suspects is genuine, and it stems from the fact that murderous xenophobes have their own method too. Therefore, I need this information for my comparative purposes, just in case you are wondering about my “tjatjarag” inquisitiveness.
I’m once again curious to know how long this operation has been going on for, how many suspects are captured within a given period and the rate of successful prosecutions carried out.
With my little understanding that your work entails helping to right the wrongs in our society, I have a good feeling that you will gladly show off your sterling job to some of us.
The last I heard about the nitty-gritties of carrying passes or IDs was in story set in the bloody era during which the Sharpeville Massacre occurred, something I read about from my high school history textbook. So that’s why I have hope that you will explain to me the importance of carrying any form of ID with me all the time, irrespective of whether I intend to use it or not.
I hope you don’t find me “tjatjarag” again, for reminding you, as if reputable institutions like yours don’t know, that one of the eight Batho Pele principles (Principle 6: Openness and Transparency) makes for entrusted state agencies like yours to disseminate information to curious fellows like me. Hence, I hope that you, our faithful law-abiding enforcers of law and order, will share this information and thereby educate us in the process.
Lastly, I hope this letter finds you well.
Yours in curiosity,
A concerned compatriot.