Motorists in Francistown have greeted the recent traffic crackdown initiatives launched by Botswana police with hostility and discontent.
Complaints have also been raised about the abrasive behavior and heavy-handed approach of some police officers when dealing with motorists. The negative sentiment follows the launch of Operation Red Light in Francistown, and the recent exponential hiking of traffic fines, which will be effected April 1.
Francistown roads have been a beehive of police activity as police launched a massive crackdown on delinquent drivers in an overarching operation. Traffic Officer Commanding No. 1 District, Pelontle Kesupile, said last week that they were forced to launch an offensive against traffic offenders when it emerged that drivers in Francistown and surrounding areas generally disobey traffic rules.
Kesupile said that they are already detecting signs of success as the rates of arrest and the numbers of charges have gone down significantly. Since the start of the operation, hundreds of road users have been charged for offenses ranging from disobeying traffic lights, disobeying road signs, driving without a driver’s license and driving without a seat belt on.
However, Kesupile said that it is disheartening to observe that it takes concerted policing for drivers to obey traffic rules, saying that it should be the responsibility of every driver to ensure that they always exercise caution on the road.
But the traffic officer maintained that they will keep monitoring the roads to ensure that errant drivers are dealt with as they endanger the lives of innocent and responsible Batswana. He explained that it is important for the police to maintain visibility in the roads and attend to accidents on time if they are to curb road carnage in Botswana.
“Most of the drivers routinely go through red lights, disobey road and traffic signs, and overtake in the least expected areas,” he said. He added that most accidents, some of them fatal, usually occur at robots because drivers routinely disobey traffic lights.
However, motorists in Francistown have raised complaints about the overzealous and heavy-handed approach of some police officers in the traffic crackdown. They complained that they are regularly subjected to abrasive behavior and sometimes, blatant rudeness by some police officers who are quick to write out a charge sheet without first looking at the facts. Their dilemma, they said, is that it is easier to accept the charge and pay than to have to deal with the dragged out process of maintaining their innocence at the courts of law.
The motorists’ woes were worsened when the police announced imminent stiffer penalties, including imprisonment, for traffic offences. The police have apparently been holding routine meetings with stakeholders, like public transport operators and companies that usually have larger fleets to sensitize them about the new regulations and the stiffer penalties, with effect on April 1.
Kesupile revealed that while over speeding was initially charged at a statutory charge of P30 and P5 for every excess kilometer, the statutory charge has jumped to P100 and P20 for every excess kilometer. The charge for driving without a seat belt on has also jumped from the previous P50 to P500.
Motorists have, however, raised complaints that the charges are excessively severe. They said in interviews that it is unfair for government to put in place stringent traffic fines when, on the other hand, Botswana roads are in a shabby state while traffic lights are continuously not operating.
They also expressed worry about the commitment of traffic officers to ensuring order on the roads because they are only visible during month end. “We wonder if their objective is to maintain order in the roads or to collect money from Batswana,” said one motorist.
Others also said that the high traffic fines, combined with the insistence by traffic officers that payment be made on the spot, will encourage bribery and corruption as motorists will offer the police bribes for their immediate freedom. “It is common knowledge that the police routinely take bribes. This will only worsen the situation as motorists will offer traffic officers bribes to avoid paying hefty fines on the spot,” they said.
At the same time, public transport operators have also raised complaints that traffic officers seem to usually target them and leave the general population behind. “We feel victimized by the traffic officers because they seem to always set roadblocks specifically for us,” they said.