Dlamini to take final salute after 40 years

Lieutenant-colonel Lungelo Dlamini
Lieutenant-colonel Lungelo Dlamini

The last time lieutenant-colonel Lungelo Dlamini was off sick from his job as a police officer was 35 years ago.

The long-serving Gauteng police spokesperson says he has been able to keep a clean bill of health for decades by eating healthy, working in the garden and avoiding to be emotional and stressed at work.

Dlamini, who has been with the SA Police Service (SAPS) for 39 years, is set to retire next year when he turns 60, bringing to an end an illustrious career as the voice and face of Gauteng police.

He joined the police in 1979. The last time he was booked off sick was in 1983 when he was promoted to a position of sergeant.

Dlamini reluctantly agreed to do an interview with Sowetan which took place at his office in Parktown, Johannesburg.

During the interview began on Friday, his cellphone rang intermittently with Dlamini fielding answers to questions posed by journalists on crime status in the province.

He has developed a strong relationship with the media due to his prudence in giving information.

He sat behind a neatly kept desk with just a phone, a laptop, a landline and some paperwork. There is a small SA flag on the corner of his desk and two couches to welcome visitors to his office.

Provincial police spokesperson lieutenant-colonel Lungelo Dlamini at his plot in Walkerville, south of Joburg.
Provincial police spokesperson lieutenant-colonel Lungelo Dlamini at his plot in Walkerville, south of Joburg.

He began the interview by stating that he does not go to gym to exercise but simply changes his eating habits when he believes he has gained some weight.

His calm demeanour has enabled him to deal with the stressful environment of countless calls from journalists from across the country.

Born in Spandikron, a village outside Ladysmith in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Dlamini matriculated in 1978 and immediately moved to Meadowlands, Soweto, in search of job opportunities.

While still in search, one of his uncles, who was a police officer, suggested he join the men in blue and "I gave it a try".

By October 1979 he was a new recruit at the then infamous John Vorster Square.

He says being a police officer then was not easy. Police were seen as part of an oppressive government.

"I used to carry my ID [dom pass as black man working in the city centre] so that if there were problems at any time I could tell them I did not want to continue," he said.

Black people then were required to carry a dompass and a permit to live in cities.

It was at this police station, now called Johannesburg Central, where Dlamini would spend 20 years of his policing career.

He started working as a constable on foot patrol in the city.

"The city was different at that time. There were no people selling on the side of the road," he said.

"There was one time when Archbishop [Emeritus] Desmond Tutu was refused a passport. He wanted to go overseas. In protest, Tutu used to come there and stand in front of the building the whole day. In the afternoon he would leave."

Dlamini saw these events as difficult times in the country, witnessing bombs exploding.

"At some stage if you saw a parcel next to a dust bin, you would just run," he recalled.

Dlamini was later moved to the investigating unit which looked into cases of assault, reckless and negligent driving.

He conceded a lot of wrongs were done by the police.

The political developments in the 1980s and early 1990s were revealing. He developed interest in the media, cutting newspaper articles and keeping files to this day.

At one stage of his career, Dlamini was recruited to serve in the security branch. His conscience would not allow him to take the offer.

The branch pursued with vigour activists of the liberation movement.

"My conscience would not allow me. I felt as a black person I was also oppressed."

In 1994, Dlamini completed his diploma in policing and was moved to Mondeor Police Station as a detective.

Within three days in the job he arrested one of the police officers for corruption but his colleague was later acquitted.

Dlamini was upset about that outcome.

He complained to the chief magistrate that the prosecutor never called him to testify.

Disciplinary proceedings were instituted against the prosecutor and he was found guilty in 1995.

Dlamini also studied public relations management at Technikon SA. In 1998 when the police was restructured, he moved to communications.

He stressed the importance of remaining calm and avoiding stress and conflict.

"You must always be impartial and keep your calm. Being emotional does not help in my job," he said.

There has been moments in Dlamini's career that shook him to the core.

During the Molemo "Jub-Jub" Maarohanye trial he came out of court to find the car he drove had all the windows smashed by angry pupils. But the case that haunts him deeply in all of his police years is that of two Mbhele sisters - Lindiwe, 15, and Nelisiwe, 12, - who were killed in Soweto.

Their charred and half-naked bodies were found in a veld near Nancefield hostel in Soweto in 2005. The girls were kidnapped, raped, murdered and their corpses set alight.

Police arrested two men but they could not link them to crime. Dlamini has kept a file in his office of all the information he has been able to compile on the case.

He hopes one day suspects will be arrested for the crime, even after his retirement.

"I will be at peace if that happens," he said.

Dlamini said policing has become complex as the population of Gauteng has increased and diversified.

"There has been too much influx of different people into the province, and this adds to the criminal activities."

Dlamini has brought captain Mavela Masondo and lieutenant-colonel Kay Makhubele to take over the baton.

He lives on a plot in Walkerville, south of Johannesburg, where he has a chicken farm and hundreds of fruit trees.

Dlamini is married with five children. His first born is a 32-year-old son. He has followed in his footsteps and does communication for a bank.

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