During this year's #16DaysofActivism, IOL puts the spotlight on those who dedicate their lives to fighting violence against women and children.
Durban - Every morning when Constable Mndeni Mzila walks out of his Durban home he knows it may be for the last time. This is because of the life he chose, a life of protecting and serving the people of South Africa as a police officer.
Mzila, a father of two and the husband of a former police detective, wakes up every morning and heads off to work, pursuing Durban’s dangerous serial rapists - his area of speciality.
Last month, the investigating officer, who is attached to the Inanda Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences unit (FCS), helped in the conviction and sentencing of a serial rapist Mthobisi Mthoba Mnyandu, who was handed five life terms and 68 years for eight counts of rape, robbery with aggravating circumstances and kidnapping.
“You feel good when the court convicts them (rapists). In the case of Mnyandu, I was at Court B (in the Durban High Court) and the way the families, ogogo (the grandmothers) came to hug me and thank me was a good feeling, because there is nothing I can do beyond seek justice for them.
“Once the victim comes to you and says ‘thank you’, that alone makes you feel you have made a difference,” said Mzila.
He joined the specialised FCS unit six years ago, having previously worked in the counterfeit goods division at the Durban Harbour. Mzila, who has been in the police service since 2006, is a public administration graduate and worked as a librarian before he became a police officer.
“I became a police officer because I have always loved to help people,” said the 40-year-old. “Even when I was a librarian, I used to enjoy helping the kids and teaching them when they needed help,” said the man who hails from Ndwedwe, north of the province.
His wife, who is a former detective, along with Sergeant Shinga, his mentor, played a part in helping Mzila make the switch from the counterfeit goods unit to investigating serial sexual offenders in the community.
He got tired of the routine work at the counterfeit goods unit and applied for an FCS post in May 2012. He was hired in August the same year.
He says their FCS unit is extremely busy, covering vast areas including the townships and suburbs of Inanda, Newlands, KwaMashu, Ntuzuma, Greenwood Park and Sydenham.
“Dealing with serial rapists is not easy, in some cases it takes us more than a year to track the rapist, because in some cases, the person is a repeat offender, so they have a lot of tricks to get away from the police,” he said.
Mzila said they had a laboratory where they kept a database of sperm samples from offenders when rape victims reported violations and the offender was not known.
“Once it is there, you can see the semen is from the same person, but you do not know the identity of this person. Once we catch that person, we can match them to a number of cases, but we first have to confirm if that is the same person,” he said, explaining how police often joined the dots in catching serial rapists.
Mzila said although he had landed many serial rapists behind bars, he said they were often left powerless when victims chose to withdraw cases, only for the offenders to be freed and further terrorise others.
“That’s one of the challenges we have because we cannot force the victim if they no longer want to pursue the case because it really is tough in court. Some of them say they do not want to pursue the case because they are scared and it will awaken their trauma, so to them it looks like they are being violated again,” he said.
But Mzila said when cases do go trial, it was rare for him to fail to secure a conviction. He said unlike officers in the detective services, his cases with one offender were often linked to a number of dockets at a time, so he had ample time to focus and secure a conviction with the help of the prosecuting team.
“Our commitment is to deal with this person and get him out of the community because we know if we don’t, they will not stop, they will abuse someone else,” he said.
Mzila said some of the common offenders he dealt with would rape young girls, children and grandmothers - sometimes at deserted old buildings, derelict rooms and in bushes.
He said with young girls in their teens, some offenders, like serial rapist Khanyisani Njabulo Ngobese who was handed three life terms and 105 years, would brandish knives or firearms before taking the victims to rape them.
This was another case Mzila worked on, securing a massive sentence for the several counts of rape and robbery with aggravating circumstance his victims faced two years ago.
He raped 10 people, including three minors and a pregnant woman.
The incidents happened in Mandeni, Phoenix, Newlands East and Newlands West.
“You have to help the victims get through the pain, and I always tell them ‘Sis’ wami (my sister) it’s not your fault’,” he said.
Recalling Ngobese’s case, Mzila recalled how Ngobese saw nothing amiss with his modus operandi of brandishing firearms before raping women in the bush.
“Some of the rapists are gentlemen like me and you, they are well dressed, they have girlfriends, but they have this disease. Then some of them refuse to accept they have raped, like Ngobese honestly thought he did nothing wrong by brandishing firearms before raping women in the bush, he said to the last day that it was not rape,” he said.
Asked how tough it was for him Mzila the Investigator, to switch to Mzila the Dad when he was at home with his student daughter and teen son, Mzila said there was no separating the two.
“I cannot separate myself the police officer to myself the father because when I get home, I share my experiences with my wife and my daughter and my son. I want them to know what is happening outside and how they must protect themselves and I always tell them, if anyone ever does anything to you, do not be quiet, tell someone, report it to the police,” he said.