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Sergeant du Preez, Port Alfred, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Sergeant du Preez was in charge of the police station in Port Alfred in the late 50’s. He was the epitome of a policeman -- a man of few words, back ramrod straight, a big bushy moustache, burnt almost black because of all the time he spent in the sun. He lived with his wife and daughter Gail at the end of Dove Lane on the East Bank near the East Beach. I remember him because, on one occasion, while playing cricket in Mrs. Lobjoit’s garden in Dove Lane with her two grandsons, there was a loud squealing of tyres outside the gate -- Sergeant du Preez he had spotted a large puffadder crossing the road on his way to work. It was headed in our direction so he stopped and killed it before anybody could get hurt. I had a good look at it afterwards – beautiful but frightening to a small boy.
Sergeant du Preez was admired by local farmers because of his skill in catching stock thieves. Stock theft is a perennial problem in rural South Africa. Small stock is mostly taken but on occasion larger animals such as cattle are sometimes also stolen. The thieves would slaughter the animal and throw the skin into a dipping tank, thus ensuring that the skin would not be found for several weeks, by which time all evidence would have disappeared.
Sergeant du Preez’ solution to this intractable problem was simple but effective. He would respond to a call from the famer by paying him a visit in his police van. Upon arrival, he would park his police van in the hot sun, grab a few of the most likely-looking suspects and lock them in the back of his van where he had concealed a tape recorder. He would then enjoy coffee and a chat with the farmer, after which he would release the suspects and return to the police station to listen to the recording at his leisure. The suspects, uncomfortable in the hot police van, would talk about the incident – mostly I imagine professing their innocence but incriminating the guilty parties in the process. Sergeant du Preez, who was fluent in Xhosa, would later return to the farm to arrest the thus incriminated parties and gather whatever evidence was required to ensure a guilty verdict.
To express their gratitude, some farmers would send Sergeant du Preez a sheep carcass or a bottle of whiskey for Christmas. Such gifts could of course be construed as bribery. To ensure that they understood that this was not the case, Sergeant du Preez sometimes responded by lying in wait and fining them for some minor offense such as driving farm equipment on public roads without a license. There was a time when folks thought such distinctions were important.
Many farmers regularly visited the “Pig n Whistle”, a well-known pub in Bathurst, returning home in the early morning “under the influence”. For the most part the practice was innocuous because there was little traffic on the roads at that early hour. But occasionally – usually after a rather spectacular accident – an article would appear in the “Kowie Announcer” and locals would demand that Sergeant du Preez “…do something about it”. He would then lie in wait, arrest a few for DUI, the dust would settle and that would be the end of it.
“One of the few” – a friend described one such an incident to me in detail. Apparently Sergeant du Preez jumped out of his hiding place and waved him down. He was about to be arrested when there was a loud bang further down the road – one of his drinking buddies had driven into a tree, badly damaging both himself and the car. Sergeant du Preez told my friend to stay put and rushed off to help at the scene of the accident. My friend "stayed put" for a while but soon lost patience, climbed into his car, drove home and was soon fast asleep.
The following morning there was a loud knock on his front door. It jolted him awake and he staggered to the front door with a pounding headache from the previous evening's entertainment to find Sergeant du Preez standing outside. Irritated he said: “WHAT?” Surprised, Sergeant du Preez said: “What do you mean WHAT?” “You left the scene last night when I was about to arrest you for DUI.” My friend replied that he did not know what Sergeant du Preez was talking about – that he had spent the previous evening quietly at home. Sergeant du Preez asked him to open his garage door. When he did so they discovered Sergeant du Preez’ police van in the garage -- he had been so drunk he had driven home in the wrong car!
Port Alfred is on the R67 southeast of Grahamstown, where it intersects the N2. Gail – if you read this please contact me at email@example.com Also don’t believe everything you read!
2053/2%Last update: 2014-02-15 20:30
Author: Alan McIver
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