There are days when I’d like to turn the surreal experience that Swaziland often is, off. I was standing in line to pay my monthly bill to Chubb Security – the folk who call me up when the kids have pushed the panic button by mistake and start up with, “Hi, how are you?” Wait for response… “This is Bongiwe from Chubb so I was wondering, we see the alarm has gone off, blah blah” Only I couldn’t pay because the lady in front of me had a problem with the pastic wrapping around her safety deposit box. I found myself listening to a wierd conversation about the plastic while said plastic was being waved about. Usually I am magnanimous with my time but today I couldn’t do it. My energies had been sapped by an encounter with Mbabane’s police.
I had gone the police station to see them about changing our car registration. 6 months into our stay we thought it best to get the vehicle into our name – that and we won’t be able to cross borders without new SADC licence plates. I was accompanied by Sipho whose job it is to deal with Swazi cops and to wait in queues from dawn till dusk. For this he is paid. I must say he is well suited to the task being of cheerful character and above all, being in possession of above average patience. While we were doing the waiting in the corridor part of the exercise I asked Sipho why the courtyard in front of us was piled high with an outlandish array of rusting objects: barbed wire, beds, and above all, bicycles. He said they were stolen goods the police had found but which nobody had come to claim. The idea of throwing away the junk had evidently not occured to them or perhaps they needed a permanent reminder that they were, in fact, doing their jobs.
Periodically a door would open and someone important would walk out. Once an exceedingly important-looking man walked by wearing the most crisply ironed suit I’ve ever seen. The way he carried himself, and his buttons made me think he could be the station commander. Another time a young girl most decidedly not in uniform came creeping out from behind one of the piles of junk. She was followed not long afterwards by a pleased looking traffic cop. Surely they’re not shagging in broad daylight behind the lost and found?
Finally it was my turn once the office meeting of the serious offences crew was done. Out came the bank of mini despots and signalled to me. I explained the problem. After they’d taken it in turns haranguing me about why my husband had let the 3-month period expire to register the car they disappeared into their office again slamming the door. They wanted him to come and explain himself in person. It was most unsettling. I felt as if Benoit’s lack of organisation had been a personal affront to them.
The whole encounter left me feeling confused about what to do next. What is the next logical step in this bureaucratic conundrum? I had just about got my head around red tape in France but it seems Swaziland requires a whole new sort of approach. I consulted Sipho, who, with his vast experience of these kinds of problems, would have the answer if anyone does. He just shook his head.