"I need a cold drink," says the policeman to the driver, nonchalantly leaning against the lowered window. The sun is beating down on the windscreen of the car that has been stopped for a while on the side of a busy Johannesburg road.
Under his cap with the glittering SAPS (South African Police Services) logo, the officer is clearly making it clear that he has plenty of time. Spinning a set of keys on one finger, he chews gum tirelessly.
With lace-up boots and fatigues, he has the uniform and the bad habits: in South Africa, a desire for a "cold drink" during a roadside check is a well-known injunction to drop a few hundred rands (the equivalent of tens of euros).
A small packet of blue notes, adorned with a buffalo head on one side and the anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela on the other, surreptitiously slipped into the hand of the officer to avoid a fine, the impoundment or even the police station.
In a country with one of the highest crime rates in the world, the police have a sulphurous reputation for being both inefficient and corrupt. Two out of ten murder cases are solved, according to official figures. And those who can afford it rely instead on private companies to provide security.
"So what do we do?" the policeman asks.
At the wheel of a brand new red SUV, the 40-year-old Frenchwoman takes a quick look in the back. Her daughter is sleeping in her child seat. The engine has already had time to cool down.
Not convinced that she has exceeded the speed limit, she hesitates between leaving a small sum of money behind or going into a long argument with the policeman who is determined to pocket a few tickets. Next door, on a police van, a telephone number for an "anti-corruption hotline" is proudly displayed.
- "Even if you are drunk" -
"They want to make some money before the weekend to drink," said Lwando, a 25-year-old Uber driver, who was interviewed by AFP. He spends most of his time on the roads of the South African megalopolis, and he is convinced that the number of checks on the weekend is increasing.
In total, according to the 2021-2022 police report, more than 36,000 roadblocks were organised by the police in one year, that is to say nearly a hundred a day in the country.
"Even if you are drunk and not fit to drive, as long as you have money, they let you go," the driver continued reprovingly, adding that the amounts demanded depend on "the greed of the cop".
According to an internal affairs officer interviewed by AFP on condition of anonymity, corrupt police officers do not discriminate, with cases regularly reported on the highways of wealthy business districts as well as in the townships.
"It's just opportunistic tendencies on the part of some people who always want more," she said.
It will "lead to the downfall of the whole organisation and all its members because, for the public, it is the whole police force that is corrupt," said a senior policewoman interviewed by AFP, who did not wish to give her name.
Nearly 160 cases of fraud and corruption involving police officers were reported in 2021-2022, according to official figures. The phenomenon exists elsewhere in Africa and the world. According to a report by Transparency International, one in four Africans paid a bribe during 2018, from public services or the police.
"A criminal and disciplinary investigation is opened for each case of alleged corruption," a police spokeswoman, Brenda Muridili, assures AFP.
"There are of course one or two rotten people in our ranks, but most of the police officers work hard," she said, urging people not to generalise.