Even if your car has never been impounded for parking illegally in the CBD, you will nonetheless be aware of the white tow trucks with Tshwane Metro Police Department signage that have literally been causing havoc among motorists who park wherever they see a gap. Park illegally and the no-nonsense officers, usually two working together, will be on the scene in no time and when you come back from your errand, your car will be gone.
Police cars, news crews on duty at the High Court, as well as high-end and smaller, cheaper cars have all been towed away near the Pretoria News office on Madiba Street. In fact, the buzz phrase in the heart of the capital city is that if your car is not where you left it, call the metro police first before you assume it's been stolen.
Metro police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba, has warned before of their zero tolerance to illegal parking in the city centre. Their target is cars that obstruct traffic, double park in the middle of road or stop in bus bays, loading zones, or at the entrance of buildings where it clearly indicates "No parking".
And their actions are irrespective of what make of car it is or who owns it.
To get your car released after it's been towed away, you'll have to fork out R1590 - and there are daily additional storage fees if you don't bail the car out the same day.
Last week, former metro executive director Matsobane Ledwaba wrote on Facebook that the City of Tshwane was charging R1590 for towing cars and described this as “corruption at its best”. Ledwaba argued there were few “Africans” who could come up with that kind of money at any given time.
According to him, the City knows very well it does not have enough parking bays, so it uses this constraint as a tool to punish motorists. He went on to say he'd had to assist his wife and friends who were short of money to have their cars released from the pound. He described the practice as a new scheme to raise money, calling it "daylight robbery".
The post drew responses such as “They (the metro police) are driving us out of the city” to “They are selective in their impounding” and “You must respect the law”, as well as “They are overdoing it these days”. Another commentator reminded all that the DA-led administration was merely continuing with a practice that has been there since the ANC ruled the city.
While Mahamba and company are well within their mandate to enforce traffic laws in the CBD, and ensure that traffic flows smoothly, the problem arises when they appear to be selective in terms of the rules that must be enforced.
Action must also be taken when metro bus drivers block the entrance to offices on Madiba Street and get defiant even when asked to please make way, or when taxis drop off passengers in the middle of the road.
The same heavy-handed approach should also apply outside Tshwane House, where taximen literally own the two intersections on Madiba Street, or further down on Steve Biko. It is chaos trying to get past, especially during peak times.
When several cars line up in an area not designated for stopping or parking, all of them should be impounded, and not the current scenario where City police seemingly arrive and single out one car to be towed for whatever reason - which raises the suspicion that certain cars are indeed being targeted.
The law enforcement should also happen as part of a bigger scheme within which the metro will eventually sort out the parking challenges in the inner city. As the so-called broken window theory goes, by sorting out the small things such as traffic issues and parking to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, the City will create an environment that prevents more serious crimes from happening.
The law must be seen to being enforced, but such enforcement has to be fair and consistent.
Mudzuli is assistant editor of the Pretoria News. He writes in his personal capacity.