Perhaps it is time to consider the possibility that Thulani Dlomo simply does not want to be found. The man once rumoured to be "Zuma’s spy", 48-year-old Dlomo has been missing for almost nine months. The State Security Agency (SSA), his employer until very recently, cannot find him.
The alternative, as any good spy novelist will tell you, is probably a kidnapping by a nefarious foreign enemy or worse, and would undoubtedly draw the attention of the police. Since the Hawks confirmed to News24 that they have not been drawn into the fray, it is safe to assume that this is not a "missing persons" case. Yet.
So where in the world is Thulani Dlomo?
Dlomo was fired by the SSA last week, after being AWOL since his return from Japan, where he was South Africa’s ambassador, in January this year. Before his posting to Tokyo, Dlomo headed the SSA’s infamous Special Operations (SO) unit, later found by an independent review to have served the interests of former president Jacob Zuma.
Dlomo has occupied several addresses in Durban over the last twelve years. News24 visited them this week, and discovered that he is as elusive as ever.
The quiet suburb and the Merc
Dlomo has used an address in a quiet suburb called Yellow Wood, Durban, on-and-off from around 2009 to 2017. Deeds office records show that Dlomo sold this house in 2015, and its current owner claims not to know him.
The small property is nestled down a grass embankment, in a quiet street of mostly upmarket homes. It is an unassuming house: grey, with a high fence, and two pitbulls lounging on the porch.
The curtains are open, cars are in the driveway, and laundry is on the line. Someone is home. The pitbulls make up for the lack of a doorbell.
There are security cameras all over the property – on the walls and at the entrances. A Mercedes-Benz and a Toyota Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) with a trailer attached are in the driveway. It is said that Dlomo still drives one of the SSA’s Mercs, and that he has been travelling in and out of the country.
There are some animal skins on the roof.
The dogs next door, not to be outdone by their effervescent neighbours, bark even louder, just as this journalist’s efforts to stay upright on the steep grass embankment in the rain degenerate from the comical to the life-threatening.
Over the deafening barking, a neighbour shouts that there is a lady who lives in the grey house. Her name is "Dlomo", the neighbour says. Her first name is "Linda". The woman will not come out to talk to you, the neighbour sighs.
"Dlomo", the security paraphernalia, the Mercedes-Benz, the trailer… This must be the missing spy’s hideout.
But it is a man called Linda Mhlongo who emerges from the house a day later, with a little encouragement from a different neighbour.
Mhlongo insists he does not know any Thulani Dlomo. But deeds records show that Mhlongo bought the property in 2015 from Dlomo, who bought the house in 2009.
A more likely place for Dlomo to be hiding out, and his current address, is a modest block of flats in central Durban. It was listed as Dlomo’s address as recently as September this year, and he has used the address since 2015.
It is likely that this is where Dlomo lived when he was running the SOU (having been appointed there in 2012), before he left for Tokyo in 2017.
It is also the address of a Christian women’s network run by his wife.
The building, no more than eight units, is, barely big enough to take up more than a third of the block. It is situated on a busy side street, around the corner from a shopping centre. You would drive right past it if you weren’t looking for it.
Perhaps Dlomo took former finance minister Pravin Gordhan's call for South Africans to tighten their belts seriously, because this is not the kind of place one would expect to find a very senior government employee.
The Dlomo’s unit number’s doorbell rings and rings. Neighbours say they have never heard of Thulani Dlomo. The guardsman on the property and the security guard don’t know who he is, either.
The flat is owned by Oarabile Dlomo, Dlomo’s wife, and a relative. Social media depicts a deeply religious woman, hands raised in the air in euphoric hallelujahs. Records show that Oarabile Dlomo started working at the SSA in at least May 2019, possibly earlier, just months after her husband returned from Japan. Clearly, even God needs spies.
She could not be reached for comment this week.
But there is another address for Dlomo that stands out.
In 2017, about a month after his arrival in Japan, Dlomo listed as one of his addresses a derelict building in Durban, with boarded up windows, which is the registered address of KwaZulu-Natal Security Services.
Its sole director is Shadrack Sibongiseni Dladla. Dladla is a director of a company with strong ANC ties called Reshebile Aviation and Protection Services. City Press reported in 2018 that the company had controversially been awarded tenders to provide security at all the country’s airports.
Either Dlomo was living in the otherwise abandoned building while being in Japan at the same time – taking his spy skills to supernatural levels – or he had some connection to Dladla’s security companies while being an ambassador at the same time. Dladla could not be reached for comment.
With Dlomo nowhere in sight, there were three more addresses worth pursuing. One in another modest suburb, Montclair – a small, sweet house in a cul-de-sac – in which no one had ever heard of Dlomo. Another modest block of flats nearby returned the same result. The last address was another block of flats near Durban North Beach, even more modest than all the others, where no one was home, either.
All of Dlomo’s phone numbers went unanswered this week, except for one – the SSA’s landline. News24 asked to speak to one Thulani Dlomo. The operator, predictably, was silent.