Cape Town Central police station telephone operator, Marlin Kolbee, does not let his disability hold him back.
Marlin, from Grassy Park, who is blind, was the runner-up in the disabled person’s category at the national South African Police Service SAPS Excellence Awards last week in Durban.
He was nominated after a prestige award at the Western Cape SAPS Prestige Awards last year.
The South African Police Service Excellence award shows appreciation to men and women who have stood out and shown dedication in their duties at SAPS. “It’s the first time that someone from Cape Town Central police went to these awards, and to be the first runner-up – I feel over the moon.”
Marlin wasn’t born blind. When he was five years old, he ran into a wall. “I started getting headaches and my mother took me to Red Cross Children’s Hospital. The doctors found a tumour on my brain, and while removing it, they damaged an optic nerve, which left me blind.”
He attended the Athlone School of the Blind, where he matriculated. During his schooling, he completed courses in switchboard operation and also completed a call centre course. “I started selling funeral cover, but with the recession most call centres closed down, so I applied to work at Cape Town Central police. I have been here for seven years.”
Marlin is also an avid cricket player, and was selected to play blind cricket at the T20 World Cup in 2012 in India. He was selected again in 2014, but this time, the tournament was held in Cape Town.
At the police station, Marlin’s duties include answering and redirecting all calls to the relevant officers, taking down complaints and monitoring response time of complaints vehicles.
Calls come in from the police station, the provincial detectives, Customs House at the Foreshore and the local government resource centre.
On his desk are two phones and a Braille machine he uses to take down complaints. “I memorise all the extensions, speed dials and cell numbers because I don’t have a switchboard. I need to redirect calls, so I need to know everyone’s extensions and numbers.”
He takes down complaints on his Braille machine, and if needed, dispatches a complaints vehicle. “I have a watch so I time the vehicle. After 15 minutes I check again to see whether they have responded to the complainant.”
Marlin said one of his biggest challenges is getting to work in the morning. “I use Dial-a-Ride to come into work, but whenever I get here, there is a vehicle in the disabled parking bay. Because of this, I need to get out in the road and walk to the station. This is unacceptable.
“I’ve worked here for seven years, people should know not to park in the disabled bay.”
And while Marlin knows the city centre like the back of his hand, he doesn’t walk around much, or alone.
“I receive calls and complaints about what goes on in the city centre every day. People constantly complain about the street children as well. I have a lot of valuables and I don’t want to put myself in a vulnerable position.
“Even when I’m at home, I don’t walk around alone.”
Marlin’s prize included a tablet with a smart watch, a gift voucher, a cash prize and a trophy and certificate.