Saturday, January 31, 2015

Normal but Bizarre Licenses: Radio

To remind you, we were talking about "normal but bizarre" in Zim.  To continue my explanation that started two days ago regarding licenses, here's a little reminder of where we left off:

In Zimbabwe, one must own a radio license if owning a car, and a television license if living in a home.  It does not matter if you actually own a radio or a television. You must have a license anyway. The problem is that when the tax-man or woman approaches you, the tax must be paid on the spot... immediately or the fine is sometimes up to four times greater than the actual tax and then the task of paying the fee involves police stations and standing in line at a number of department windows to get your name off "the list." The prospect of not paying is actually quite burdensome.

The car-radio license, though cheap, was a bother. Our car did not have a radio, but still showing an officer that at a police stop was no valid argument. We had to pay like everyone else.

At times you could purchase a six month license.  At other times, the country was only selling three month passes.  Always a person's car was checked for the sticker at police stops.  The licenses for car radios were sold in the post office (my one attempt took six hours of line-waiting before the office simply closed on the angering crowd and said we would have return another day) and large parking lots by random people with clipboards, able to give you a ticket for not having a license if you did not approach them first to ask to buy one.  Awesome.  The problem was, at times the country ran behind ("they ran out of money," the rumors always said) on printing the license stickers, so often a person could be looking for a license for months at a time, needing to know when they were suddenly available to purchase one and then doing so immediately before coming onto a police stop.

Such was just my luck last year, when I searched for a new radio license for over a month.  I pulled up to a police stop just two days after unsuccessfully scouting out a license.  The police officer spoke harshly to me, explaining that I could buy a license from him for thirty dollars, or receive a twenty-dollar fine plus then be obligated to buy a license before being able to drive again. Someone was making his own rules, but I bought the license there and went on my way.

A few short months later when we again needed to purchase a radio license, I decided to play it smart. I pulled up to a woman with a clipboard in the parking lot of a place called the Chase Shops and opened my window.  I requested two licenses, one for now, and one for three months later.  "That is not legal," she had told me. "The stickers on them say they are only good until April."

I thought for a moment and then clarified. "Yes, but it's already mid February.  So really I'm only buying one for the next month and a half?" A new license-seeking headache would start again before I knew it.

"It is not my problem that the licenses were not available until this week. You can also choose to not drive for a month and a half."

And this is how I spent my time in Zim.

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