The short disabled man, with a visible leg deformity and always wearing a reflector vest, became a familiar sight, unfailingly blowing his whistle and making animated gestures to “control” traffic near the Fountains Circle.
Many have wondered what happened to the man who was there as long as anyone could remember. Sadly, we have to advise that we can confirm the man known as Lucky was murdered on the eve of January 1, 2017.
Lucky Mahlalela, real age unknown, stood at his post at the intersection for about 20 years, and was a great source of amusement for local motorists, taxi drivers and people visiting the city.
He accepted tips from the grateful public, and also gifts from motorists who welcomed his initiative and good humour.
Folklore says he started this initiative when he saw the number of accidents taking place at the busy intersection, and, some motorists have said, he did indeed help prevent many accidents, as motorists often did not see the flashing right arrow on the traffic light indicating their right of way.
But then, he disappeared a couple of years ago and those who had grown used to seeing him missed him.
One taxi driver described Lucky as a bundle of joy, and inventive individual. “He could have easily sat at the intersection with a board and asked for money while feeling sorry for himself, but instead opted to be creative about it,” he fondly said.
The Pretoria News's Zelda Venter, who passed by often, said there was never a dull moment on the road with Lucky around. She said had been amused by the way he conducted traffic and, regardless of what some motorist thought of him, he took his job very seriously.
“It’s a sad loss for motorists in the city,” she said.
He usually arrived early and stood at his post near the bridge before the morning peak-hour traffic, and left late after the afternoon rush from town.
When he initially started “working” at the intersection, a lot of motorists did not see the point of his presence there, with some chasing him away or reporting him because they thought he was a beggar looking for trouble.
But they grew used to him, looking out for the man, who either sat on the railing or leaned heavily on his crutch.
According to Sunnyside police spokesperson Captain Daniel Mavimbela, Mahlalela was murdered around the Sunnyside area on Old Year's Eve of 2016. It is believed he was severely beaten with a hammer over his head.
“A suspect has since been arrested and is in custody, and has appeared in court,” said Mavimbela. The motive of the murder is still unknown.
But that severe beating was not his first, the people of Pretoria say: Lucky's first brush with death was in 2014 when he was stabbed with a bottle and robbed of his money before being thrown over the bridge, down about 5m into the Apies River.
He lay there, drifting in and out of consciousness, they say: “only to be discovered days later and taken to Steve Biko hospital when we started looking for him,” another taxi operator said.
He spent most of that year recovering at home in Nelspruit and his absence led to widespread rumours that he had died. But he returned to do what he loved for another year and a few months before meeting his death.
Motorists and the public miss his presence and animated traffic control gestures, described as a sight to see, especially during peak hour.
And since the confirmation that he had died, messages of condolences have been pouring in on social media, with writers saying it could only have been a heartless person responsible for his death.
Long-time city resident Eleanor Momberg posted on Facebook: “Anyone who has been to Pretoria knows of the handicapped man and his whistle that used to 'direct' traffic at Fountains Grill. He disappeared just over a year ago. Yesterday I discovered that that friendly beacon of our daily commute had been beaten to death by thugs using a hammer and that for his meagre takings for that day! I am heartbroken!!"
And in response Thumida Maistry said: “My heart is totally broken.” Annette Snyckers described the killing as unbelievably cruel.
Phillip Hattingh wrote: “Sad, sad, sad not thugs but barbarians carry out acts like that.”
Others asked what a man in his position could possibly have done to deserve such an awful death, asking if his sin was being friendly in a cruel world, accepting coins and clothing for his trouble and simply being "nice".