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Thoughts on a colleague’s murder

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.


  • David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African history, Judaism and the Middle East for local and international newspapers and journals. David has an MA in history from Rhodes University. Prior to joining the SAJBD, he was curator -- history at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. He is editor of the journal Jewish Affairs, appears regularly on local radio discussing Jewish and Middle East subjects and is a contributor to various Jewish publications.


  1. Judith Judith 13 April 2011

    David – your judgementalism appalls me. Why could he not have risen above his origins? Did you and your colleagues not care? Could you not have given of yourselves and found out how he could grow? Were you so self absorbed that you could not reach out to him and know him better?

    I weep for your ignorance and mere lack of conscientiousness

  2. Richard Richard 14 April 2011

    Who was it who said that until we realise that others are fully as human as ourselves, the species will never evolve?

  3. Al Al 14 April 2011

    Whether or not one would “offer that little smile and encouraging word” has blow all to do with being liberal or conservative in one’s politics; it’s a personality trait found among individuals in both camps.

  4. Alastair Grant Alastair Grant 14 April 2011

    This is very moving, and says so much about our strange country. I’m glad you wrote it.

  5. Yvonne Yvonne 14 April 2011

    I hope a lot of people read this. I am sure Lucky did not think his job menial at all.
    He would not have stayed for 37 years and was probably proud of doing his job well knowing his limitations just like hundreds of thousands of White/Black Indian Coloured People.I was fortunate to grow up up amongst Zulu people, their customs, language with my mother doing Mission work at Kwa Sizabantu-We did not suffer from a Problem of not smiling /greeting /acknowledging people,
    fellow colleagues, who may not view their life as drudgery at all as many more Educated may do. A smile costs nothing-a friendly How are you? takes a second!even for so called IMPORTANT PEOPLE. .If more Human Beings took the time to reflect on this, the world could be a better place.Terrible tragic story!Another one of thousands added to the
    scourge of Crime in this Country!To his family our condolences. Hamba Gahle Lucky!

  6. Steve Steve 14 April 2011

    Judith – your judgementalism appalls me………..

  7. Jerome Jerome 14 April 2011

    It is sad of course.

    You conveyed somewhat more than just your biting sense of shame, though. You also chose to imply that somehow, Apartheid had something to do with the overall tragicness of the whole thing.

    To a large extent, you defined Lucky’s worth as a person in terms of his education. You refrained from mentioning that the education available to him was orders of magnitude superior to the education he could have hoped for, had he attended school today. You refrained from mentioning how he should have received an education equivalent to your own, and how it should have been funded. You chose to imply that there is some sort of inherent guilt associated with your having had a superior education.

    And all of this in a piece lamenting the political murder of somebody simply because he was a member of the IFP?!

    I believe you need to rethink the framework within which you formulate your ethical beliefs – it is a tired one, and always was a grossly invalid one.

  8. Dereck Dereck 14 April 2011

    Tragic story. Appreciate your sharing it.
    But I always find the time to say (a brief) thanks to the person emptying my bin each day.

  9. MLH MLH 14 April 2011

    I occasionally hear of acquaintances who have died and while sympathy and a pause for consideration (especially for any dependents) is justified, I really can’t imagine regretting that I didn’t do more for their career paths, no matter their race or education.
    Of course, general politeness costs nothing and that you should have offered! At least to ask after family at intervals and personal health. But had Lucky risen to your status, you wouldn’t have felt this guilt and he might still have voted the same way and suffered the same fate.
    It recently occurred to me that the guilt white SA is expected to display is based on people of other races expecting to be treated far better than we do our own. I am more polite to my lodger than I am to my son. Because the lodger sees that, he knows he’s getting my best. The two people I hire, each once a week, know I’ll do whatever I can to help when they’re distressed and invariably talk their problems through with me. There are times when I can do nothing but give practical advice.
    Both continually mention how well-mannered and helpful my son is to them and, in return, always ask after him, as I ask about their families.
    That doesn’t make us perfect, just reasonably polite.

  10. Themba Khumalo Themba Khumalo 14 April 2011

    It is very easy to castigate and point fingers, but the fact that David saks wrote this article, (it is almost like a cnfession of sins0 should be appreciated and applauded.

    We have all done some nasties that we regret, but few have the courage to own up to their transgressions.

    Well done David!!

  11. George S George S 14 April 2011

    With crime and genocide so rampant in SA it’s probably a good idea not to get too closely involved with anyone; you never know when you or they’ll be taken away by criminals or the police.
    So sad for all the lost opportunities that will enrich one’s lives.

  12. DJ DJ 14 April 2011

    Jerome, I think that it is abundantly clear from your writings that you are not willing to accept views at face value if it originates from certain groups of people. EVERYONE has frameworks and prejudices – and you have proven that you are not unique in this regard! How about stepping out from your framework, chill a little, and listen to someone from that ‘group’ as they share their story – never mind if they use the wrong words and stumble in an attempt to share what is on their heart. Many years ago, my Afrikaner mom once told my best friend that she didn’t mind that he was ‘coloured’, and that she once knew nice ‘coloured’ people. Fortunately my friend and I laughed until the tears ran down our cheeks as he recounted what he termed “your mother’s bad attempt at being good”. Years later, my oldest brother married a ‘coloured’ and my mother connected with her on a mom-daughter level. My point is that some of us should get over our crap and stop some of our poor attempts at mind reading. Cheers.

  13. Sean Sean 15 April 2011

    It is unavoidable that wherever you are in the world some people will be better off than others, whether through ability, education, skin colour, luck or advantages of birth. To somehow feel responsible for being better off is the biggest waste of emotion or effort I can imagine. The world is a great big cometitive place and the great majority of people will take any advantage they have and capitalise on it. Having said that, there is never a reason to ignore or be abusive towards someone less well off, we are after all all human and are all of us worthy of time and attention. I personally associate and relate to people from all walks of life and am aware of and can appreciate both the similarities and differences between us all, I will however never feel guilty for what I have and where I am. Just my two cents worth !

  14. Nguni Nguni 15 April 2011

    Oiy vey! Why didn’t I do this or that… I was so educated, so privileged, he was so downtrodden by apartheid…
    Nauseatingly hypocritical piece.
    SA already had more black millionaires than the rest of subsaharan Africa put together before 1994. It wasn’t a lack of opportunity just the lack of drive to do something with his life that kept him emptying bins most of his life. He obviously died an excruciating death but this cheap stab at the old order is way out of line.

  15. Cathy, Australia Cathy, Australia 15 April 2011

    Words fail me… How arrogant to consider him too menial to speak to during his life and then whitter on with guilt once he is dead. Worse, write a column about it in an attempt to alleviate guilt? Education and privilege don’t make you better than others – just more fortunate. Hope you treat the next person who empties your bin a bit better.

  16. brent brent 15 April 2011

    Judith agree with Steve, after your first line the rest is pure judgementalism – as the wise Eastern saying goes: ‘the faults you see in others are your own faults’ – oops who is judging now, guess us middle class ‘toffs’ just can’t help ourselves.


  17. David Brown David Brown 15 April 2011

    The existential nature of human life in a society under pressure like SA sharpens your sense of self like a pencil until you just have a little stuble left that is trying to scribble. So many echoes here for all. We can fake good.Gomorrah is a difficult place to live. SA not the only example of one. Is it only selective ignorance that gives us peace of mind? How do we define indifference?Who is a human? There but for fortune….

  18. gill gill 15 April 2011

    I recall Lucky with warmth. May he rest in peace.

  19. THABANG THABANG 15 April 2011

    my take to this story is how we should continually examine ourselves as human beings in relation to the next do i speak to people , our perseptions of each other and how do we value mankind reggardless of whatever. i was taught not to ignore any humanbeing because you do not know what will become of that person.they can the key to your success in a way you would not have managed.

    Thank you for sharing this story. i will never judge you my brother. it a lesson for all of us.

  20. anton kleinschmidt anton kleinschmidt 15 April 2011

    A moving tribute to a man whose life ended in the most appalling fashion. Pity that Judith and Cathy have spoiled the moment

  21. Storm Ferguson Storm Ferguson 16 April 2011

    Thanks for this dude, we all need a reminder mostly every day.

  22. Rolene Rolene 17 April 2011

    I remember Lucky as a sweet, gentle man who would gently admonish me when I carried things he thought to heavy for me. He was quiet and reserved and he was also dignified and gentle. Rest in Peace Lucky.

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