“Documents” demanded the traffic cop. I’d turned off the M1 at junction twelve straight into a fabled Johannesburg roadblock. Kitted out in high visibility 21st century uniform his chest was supplemented by the obligatory bullet proof vest, a reminder that jokes and tricks where not welcome. I pass over my british driving license to which a sharp intake of breath “English driving licence..?” another intake “where's the letter..?.”
To be honest I felt no sense of threat. He had a job to do and so did I. Being stopped by the police and asked for documentation was not as much a surprise as a rights of passage for a young black man in 1980’s Northern England. I was stopped many times in England for DWB (driving while black) or DWBINC (Driving While Black In Nice Car).
But maybe I was too relaxed when I said “I am performing at Market theatre alongside Hugh Masekela”. Everyone in South Africa loves Hugh Masekela. It was my Hugh Masekela get out of jail free card that triggered the most extraordinary event of my stay here. His hand rested upon the car window with my documents in it. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
With a dry throat I stuttered and said what my show was about and that it wasn't actually with Mr Masekela but that his show was alongside mine. Desperately I stepped deeper into the mire? “Do you want to attend” I said” I’d love to get you tickets.” Silence “to my show…I can't get them for Mr Masekela….As many as you want”. If there is one subject that riles the average South African it's bribery
“this isn't bribery” I said very very badly “I'd just like you to… have.. a free… umm.. evenig… at the theatre?” had I just stepped into and sprung the oldest rusty toothed tourist trap in the book. He shut my passport shut. SNAP! I jumped. Oh Shit! (cont in Part Two at 8am GMT – 10am SA time – Dec 2nd 2010)