Public face of metro police

Themba Molefe and Sibongile Mashaba

Themba Molefe and Sibongile Mashaba

Like the accidental tourist, Edna Mamonyane became a traffic officer purely by chance.

Little did she know that when she was invited to start a driving project for pupils, she would become the first female traffic officer in the then Diepmeadow council in Soweto.

That was in 1986.

Today she is the senior media liaison officer of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD).

"I was a buyer at South African Breweries when the transport department approached me to teach matric pupils how to drive," she recalls.

"My interaction with the Diepmeadow traffic department saw my passion develop. It was only natural that I jumped at the opportunity when I was later offered the job of traffic officer."

Mamonyane went to the police training academy for rudimentary tutelage, which included the handling of firearms and fighting crime.

"As a woman I had to work twice as hard," she says. "My male partners were reluctant to be paired with a woman. Women were the weakest link and were not taken seriously in those days.

"The biggest challenge was to change the mindset of motorists to accept that a woman officer can stop them and ask for their licences, even arrest them."

She has a confident countenance. She looks you straight in the eye when she makes a point.

"I long for the days when I was on the beat in the streets of Soweto. That's where I learnt people skills, especially human relations and patience."

She says she suspected that her appointment years later to the JMPD's public relations section was the result of her sound relations with motorists and colleagues.

But she misses the days on the road.

"I think it was positive feedback from motorists that landed me here," she says. "I honestly did not like it when I was seconded to the communications department - but I embraced the change.

"All my partners were men. We were dependent on one each other for survival. I knew what my partners ate and will not forget the Monday morning fare that was almost ritualistic.

"We ate porridge, skop (sheep's head) and atchaar. We enjoyed the meal in the open on the bonnet of the car and washed it down with a litre of Coke."

Mamonyane says she and her partners had a brother-sister relationship.

She says it was important to gauge a partner's mood, a skill she honed to near perfection.

"We had to know each other very well. One has to be able to tell how your partner feels at any given time.

"I sometimes advised some colleagues against going on the beat when I sensed they were troubled because a lack of concentration cost you and even the motorists dearly."

A shadow clouds her eyes as she remembers how one of her partners committed suicide.

"He was one of the most amazing young men I have ever worked with," she says without elaborating on the suicide.

About the use of force she says: "Using force is the name of the game if you want to serve and protect the community.

"One day at Diepkloof Extention in Soweto we came on a hijacking in which a couple were being attacked at their gate.

"One of the hijackers was killed in the incident," she says, without revealing much.

Mamonyane says the JMPD and SAPS do the same work. The major differences are that the JMPD police the city and do not investigate cases.

"For example, we arrest someone for rape then hand him over to SAPS. We do not have police stations but we have specialised accident investigating teams.

"We have offices in Soweto, Diepsloot, Midrand, Village Main and at our headquarters in Newlands."

On the recent controversial strike by Metro police officers in Johannesburg, Mamonyane says: "It is true that the strike affected the city, but it was a matter between the City of Johannesburg and the officers - and as such it was handled by the city manager."

Mamonyane has four children who she says are supportive. Her nephews and nieces also live with her.

"I am a mother to all of them. I am blessed. My children understand what I do and though I do not spend much time with them, I am happy that they have not been caught up by the wrong things that affect teens today."

During the interview her cellphone stops ringing only when she switches it off.

"I don't like doing that. I want to be there when people call. I feel I am betraying people when they need me."

On a philosophical note Mamonyane says: "I hate arrogance and I treat motorists with respect when I stop them.

"Someone might be screaming or be vulgar, but in the end I emerge the winner because I don't shout back."