Monday, 1 August 2011

Unplanned eventualities...

It's virtually impossible to plan for every eventuality before departing on a cross-border trip. One such aberration occurred relatively recently on a trip to Botswana. Getting into Botswana via Stockpoort border post was easy. Getting back through the same border post into South Africa proved a trial for reasons which will become apparent.

Stockpoort / Parr's Halt is our preferred border entry for our numerous trips to Botswana. Although not centrally located it's close enough to our home in Johannesburg and the formalities are always, well, 'just formalities'. Both the South African and Botswana border officials are genial enough which gives me the opportunity to catch up on the latest weather / news and other goings-on in the area. It's a nice way to 'officially' start a Botswana bush-break. Incidentally, as an aside, don't be put off by the gravel road section just after Parr's Halt. It's only 50 odd kilometers long and the 'road's-not-so-bad'!

We had spent an idyllic two weeks in the Moremi, Savuti and Chobe regions of Botswana before returning home to South Africa via the same border-post. By way of background we were a party of four travelling in two fully-laden, luxury 4x4 vehicles. Given the nature of our trip both vehicles were extensively customised for the Botswana conditions. For those of you unfamiliar with what that would entail customising usually includes fridges, compressors, additional electrical systems, 2-way radios, water tanks, storage, roof-racks, MT tyres etc. Both the vehicles had been across borders many times before.

You'll recall we had left via Stockpoort border post some two weeks prior...

Getting through the Botswana side (Parr's Halt) was a cinch, as usual. Getting one of the vehicles through Stockpoort was also a cinch, as usual.... However we knew something was up when five (5) armed policemen exited the office in an agitated state only to descend on the second vehicle and its occupants, my elderly parents. You can imagine our confusion......  As it turns out the vehicle had FAILED clearance inspection and was in fact reported stolen. My Mom and Dad, both in their sixties, are the epitome of integrity and a lesson to everyone I know on what it means to be a 'good citizen'. Claims that their vehicle had been reported stolen and that, as its occupants, they were, by definition, it's thieves were therefore preposterous and almost amusing if it wasn't for the serious nature of the allegation. You see the vehicle was no more than a year old and had been bought, by my parents, brand new from the dealership. Since the vehicle was still in their possession they had not thought it necessary to report it stolen.... They were, so to speak, enjoying the fruits of their labours.

Although the SAPS officers, once everybody had calmed down, suspected that my parents were not the desperados the system claimed them to be, they were, however, obliged to impound the vehicle and arrest them as required by the law. Nobody could fault the policemen who were, to a man, very professional if not a little confused. No cellphone reception at the border compounded the issue. By late afternoon nothing much had changed despite numerous calls to the regional SAPS office in Ellisras, some 70 odd kilometers away. The system clearly identified the vehicle's chassis & engine number as stolen. I was 'free-to-proceed' but obviously declined. It was decided, given the circumstances and late hour, that our case would be better heard at Ellisras. All four of us were therefore transferred to Ellisras police station; my parents under armed guard and my husband and I in 'hot-pursuit' behind them in our own vehicle.

Whilst the 'stolen' vehicle was immediately impounded on our arrival in Ellisras pending further investigation, my parents were placed 'in-my-care' under house arrest as long as we all remained in Ellisras until told otherwise. Even at the late hour the Station Commander had personally taken over our 'case' which was fortunate in that he could liaise directly with the Johannesburg branch commander in charge of the investigation.

This then is the story and it's compelling...

It transpired that the vehicle had been hijacked off the delivery truck parked in the dealership's driveway. At the time the dealership's manager, hearing the commotion, grabbed his own firearm and 'engaged' the hijackers who then fled in 'our' vehicle, in peak traffic, down a main road. The intrepid dealership manager decided to pursue the hijackers in his own vehicle and continued to fire his firearm at the escaping would-be hijackers. They in turn fired wildly back. He was obviously the better shot and one round at least found its mark, punching holes through 'our' (as yet undelivered) vehicle. The hijackers, in turn, careened the vehicle over the pavement into oncoming traffic and collided with not one but two vehicles. The would-be-thieves deciding the action a little too hot for comfort, exited the vehicle and fled the scene, never to be seen again.... In the interim, unbeknownst to our intrepid dealership manager, the vehicle transport company had immediately reported the vehicle stolen and thus it remained for close on a year and MANY other trips out of the country later leading, 'eventually', to my parents arrest for armed robbery 'grand-auto'.

The vehicle had therefore been hijacked, shot at and damaged; ramped over pavements at high speed and collided head-on into oncoming traffic. The dealership recovered the vehicle and had it repaired 'on-the-quiet'. Shortly thereafter the vehicle was delivered as a new vehicle 'off-the-floor' to my unsuspecting parents happy to take delivery after a 'brief' delay. Needless to say we were released by Ellisras after 24 hours of confused misery.

Planning for every eventuality before your trip is sometimes difficult........

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