Just using the word “colleague” when referring to Lucky Dlamini comes across now as presumptuous, even hypocritical. When he was alive, he was just the taciturn cleaning staff member who came in once a day to empty my rubbish bin. I barely did more than grunt my perfunctory thanks, half-annoyed at being interrupted. Lucky was someone who was just there.
On Sunday night, unknown assailants broke into Lucky’s home at the Diepkloof Hostel and shot him as he slept, afterwards petrol bombing the house. He had been a hostel induna and an IFP member. It is thought that tensions between the IFP and the breakaway National Freedom Party faction were behind the attack.
Lucky was not killed by the bullets, and suffered 90% burns. He died in the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Academic Hospital the following afternoon. We’ll never know what he experienced in his last conscious moments and can only hope that oblivion overtook him before the flames did.
Lucky worked for the Jewish community for 37 years, commencing with his employment by the SA Zionist Federation in 1972. During all that time, he never spoke English, although he obviously understood it. He was a quiet, reserved man who carried out his duties unobtrusively. That made it easier to more or less ignore him.
Seeing Lucky’s blue overalls hanging in the men’s toilet, out of which he would change before commencing his long journey home each day, was especially affecting. They testified to a lifetime of unrewarding drudgery; a poorly educated rural Zulu lad born at the height of apartheid never had much of a chance of rising above that. Now, even that humble existence has been wrenched away from Lucky, under circumstances too cruel and harrowing to contemplate.
I am trying very hard here not to come across as a self-regarding, white liberal indulging in a little trendy self-flagellation. All that I am trying to convey is that intermingled with the natural horror and regret that I felt on learning of Lucky Dlamini’s brutal, undeserved end was a biting sense of shame. Now, too late, I wish I’d at least given him a smile and an encouraging word occasionally. In doing so, I would have given due acknowledgement to another human being, one who was of no less importance than I, even if fortune had consigned him to menial, low-paying employment while my years of privileged education allowed me to sit before a computer screen.