- Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa has retired after 46 years of service.
- Africa, who applied to become a traffic officer several times during apartheid, was promoted to traffic chief just over a decade ago.
- He believes the discrimination he faced as a young officer during apartheid helped shape his character into what it is today.
On what Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa describes as the best day of his life, he sat by the phone for two hours, waiting for the call that would change everything. It was the call to tell him he’d been accepted into training college as a traffic officer.
Africa clearly remembers the day he decided to become a traffic officer: It was over the Easter weekend in 1974, when traffic officers had stopped in his hometown of Genadendal, near Greyton. He vividly remembers the shiny cars, with blue lights and sirens, and the officers in them.
“I thought to myself: Look how neat these people are, with their uniforms, their hats, the star on their left side and their shiny shoes,” said Africa.
In that moment, he decided his lifelong dream of making a difference in others’ lives would be best served by becoming a traffic officer.
Forty-six years later, Africa completed his last day at the office on Friday, as he steps into retirement.
It hasn’t been an easy journey. Africa applied five times before he was accepted at the training college. And once he donned his uniform, as a “small 18-year-old” in Worcester as one of only two coloured officers, he faced endless discrimination.
But it was during this time under apartheid – earning less than his white counterparts, driving second hand-vehicles without heaters, and unable to fine any white motorists – Africa realised his destiny.
“I showed my colleague, Mr Cupido, my resignation and he tore it up in my face. He told me I can’t leave, because one day I’m going to be the traffic chief for the whole province. So I decided then I needed a strategy, and that strategy would be to have standards so high no one else could reach them,” said Africa.
“I honestly believe the tough times during those apartheid years made me stronger.”
In 1976, Africa became the first coloured traffic officer to be promoted to a higher rank, and he received salary increases regularly in the following years.
During his years on patrol, Africa developed a keen sense of when criminal activity was going to take place, often stopping stolen vehicles or drivers transporting drugs. In 1984 alone, he single-handedly arrested eight murderers while on duty.
In 1997, he was made traffic chief for the Worcester area. In 2001, he was named as deputy provincial traffic chief. That same year, he lost his eldest son Henry in a motor vehicle accident.
“That motivated me to ensure other parents’ sons and daughters are safe on the road.”
Nine years later, he was promoted to Western Cape traffic chief – a job that started off with great celebrations, when his first grandchild was born, three hours into his shift.
He hopes his retirement will bring him more time with his family, saying his wife has often teased him that he’s not married to her, but to the traffic department.
Kenny Africa and his wife, Trudy.
Photo: Edrea du Toit
“I worked until 16:00 on my last day, and when I got home I gave my wife an envelope. When she asked what was inside, I told her it was my divorce papers from the public and the media,” he said.
After waking up at 04:00 and working 365 days a year for the past decade, Africa remains undecided as to how he would spend his newfound free time.
He will, however, start by replying to the hundreds of well-wishes he has received via WhatsApp since announcing his retirement.