McIntosh Polela recalls a “brutal childhood” in KwaZulu- Natal. He lost his mother early on, learned years later it was his own father who had killed her, and suffered years of abuse by the extended family he grew up with.
The angry lad rebelled. “I was like a can of petrol rolling through fire,” he says. By age 15 he was making guns for the ANC just to feel he belonged.
The terror of being roughed up by police and shot at during IFP-ANC standoffs helped to spur a change in Polela, and he found a way to study journalism at the Durban University of Technology. Fine results attracted a scholarship towards a master’s in media and communication at the London School of Economics.
Polela returned in 2002 and began an award-winning career as a political journalist for eNews. Moving on in 2007, he realised he needed to confront his past. So he penned his emotional memoir, My Father, My Monster, reliving his tragic history with heartbreaking honesty.
In 2009 Polela joined elite police unit the Hawks as their spokesperson. Still a journalist at heart, he loves the adrenaline of the job. “I’ll get a call about an incident at 3am,” he explains, “and I have to get in my car, press the button for the blue light and drive as fast as I can to the crime scene.”
But being the public face of the Hawks brings risks, even if he is just the communications man. “People come after me because they hear ‘McIntosh arrested so and so’,” says Polela.
Hawks security recently advised that the one-time wordsmith carry a weapon for his own protection. “I already need a bulletproof vest,” he says, “but I’m a writer, academic, fitness fanatic and a nerd. I’m not sure I can carry a gun.”
— Ian Macleod