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“What Colours Are In Front of A Car?”

I have written many exams in my life, from spelling three-letter words to solving differential equations. And then there was the Zimbabwean provisional (learner) driving license exam – the hardest exam I have ever written in my life. You laugh?

Do not.  When I took my learner’s driving license in California, it was all a breeze. I downloaded their free handbook online, studied for a few hours and went to take the test the following day. I walked out with my provisional license that afternoon and went back to school to finish my engineering class homework. No big deal.

Back in Zimbabwe, I borrowed a study guide (it wasn’t free), studied for a few hours and went in for the test the following day. I failed. Just then, I knew something was wrong – there were huge discrepancies between the test and the study material. My dad thought I should just retake it. I refused, and only returned a year later. This time I bought a different study guide. I failed once more. So I bought yet another different study guide. I failed yet again.

Must think it fishy now, eh? Good, you’re on board. See, this little thing called corruption is so widespread in Zimbabwe that it has essentially taken over the car and driving license authorities in the country. Everyone has to pay (a bribe) in order to get ahead in the licensing process. The first hurdle at which they get you is the provisional license phase. Ingenious people they are, they realized they could just make the test as difficult as possible, so that as many people as possible failed. That would force more people to pay bribes, or to resort to shady driving schools that have connections with them.

So, how to make a simple exam difficult, even for engineering graduates? Well, you use questions such as

What colours are in front of a car?

A. white and red

B. yellow and red

C. white and yellow

Yes, the English in that sentence is not really amazing. I should mention that the original guide, published by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe, has near-perfect English, and that it actually makes sense. However, the language in the test, together with the nonsensical content, is mind-numbing. Folks, that’s how much corruption drags things down.

We are a nation that wants to always boast about our superior literacy rate in Africa. Yet, it is so shameful to juxtapose that ‘fact’ with the contents of the learner’s driving test. We have people who are running important offices who do not have any sense of standard or quality whatsoever. It is so embarrassing. The scary thing is that they are not embarrassed at all. How demoralizing.

Well, in the end I went to a driving school that sold me a special study book. It contained many of the questions I had seen in the provisional driving license exam – complete with the ludicrous expected answers. I studied the booklet and passed the exam (It is all a little bit complicated because they used different exams for different days with widely varying questions. Anyway, the bottom line is that I passed eventually). I was very relieved as I had spent a lot of money paying for the tests and buying the study books.

Yet the take-away here isn’t that perseverance ultimately yields results. No. It is instead the fact that I have had to disgracefully play the system in order to progress. With the 15% pass-rate that I observed, I know that I am sadly not alone. Many more will have to be victims of this circus. Victims of a pandemic corruption.

Oh, about the multiple-choice question I asked earlier in this piece, I have no idea what the answer is.

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6 thoughts on ““What Colours Are In Front of A Car?”

  1. Although, I am originally from Zim, I got my driver’s license in South Africa. The corruption is soul destroying. Ludicrous amounts of money are requested from people who can barely afford it. To pay the bribe I would have had to take out a small loan. I couldn’t afford it on my meager new-graduate salary. But when you consider the fact that they proceeded to fail me so many times, I spent the equivalent in retaking the road test, I wonder what I achieved.

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  2. I am laughing aloud to myself. I have not been back to Zim since 1999 and had forgotten the bribe process. I recall now the bribes I had to pay at numerous road blocks just to get from A to B.

    Incidentally, what did the colours refer to? Was it the number plates?

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  3. This was rather sad to read. 😦 It reminds me of the literacy tests imposed upon black people in America during the Civil Rights Era where they had to correctly answer a bunch of obscure questions to be allowed the right to vote. In that case, I can at least understand the evil motive behind the confusing test — they didnt want black ppl to have political or social power.

    In the case of the driving tests, however, I’m not sure I understand the motive behind making the tests extremely complicated/subject to high fail rates. The powers at hand don’t want ppl having licenses because….? Or is it merely a money thing? Even if I were very money hungry and corrupt I think I might rather grant licenses to all qualifying ppl and then increase revenue by charging them for vehicle registration, emissions tests, license plates, stickers, gas prices, etc. Or is there a larger infrastructure under which licensing operates?

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    • Oh, it’s purely for money, Brittany. See, once you fail as many times as I did, you’re forced to consider paying a bribe so they give you a pass. Also, it creates business for people who are tied to them, who sell answer sheets for the exams.

      And that idea of increasing revenue through handing more licenses etc is good, but not here. Perhaps I’ll write more about the sickening corruption associated with motor vehicles and roads. People pay a lot of fines, but directly to the pockets of the traffic policemen and women, not to the country’s coffers.

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