Shell petrol attendant Nkosi Mbele: when 21-year-old customer Monet van Deventer realised she had no money with her, Nkosi insisted on buying her petrol to keep her safe on a risky highway | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
An act of kindness by South African Shell petrol attendant NKOSIKHO (‘NKOSI’) MBELE hit headlines after he paid for the petrol of young Monet van Deventer because he was concerned she’d be in danger if she ran out of petrol. The story, put on Facebook by a grateful Monet, touched the heart of many South Africans, who donated money to him as a thank you. What’s life like for this 28-year-old man? What motivates him and why did he help Monet that day? Here he describes a day in his life to KATY MACDONALD and explains why
Born in Indwe in South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape, Nkosi grew up in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township. His mother Ndileka is a domestic worker and he never knew his father. Nkosi lives in a corrugated iron home in the yard of his mother’s Khayelitsha house with his brother Sakhekile and his daughter Anitha (5). Nkosi also has a son, Kuhle (6) who lives with his mother
‘My phone alarm wakes me up at 5am. I wash Anitha and make her ready for crèche and either my mom or I prepare her lunchbox. At 6am, I walk her to crèche and then the Shell transport, a Toyota Avanza, picks me up. There are eight of us in the car. We pay some of the cost and the company also contributes.
I arrive at Shell at 6.45, and prepare for my shift. I clock in with a fingerprint at 7am and the shift lasts till 7pm. There’s no formal lunch or tea break, but we can grab a tea and eat when it’s quiet. Sometimes I bring leftovers in a lunch box, or I buy something at the garage.
I won’t lie, what I like about the job is meeting the customers
I guide customers to an open bay, greet them: ‘Morning sir, morning madam, how can I help you?’ I help them get fuel, check their oil and get everything they need for their cars. When they tell me the kind of petrol they need, I still check what it says on the car in case they made a mistake. I wash their windscreen, ask them if they need me to check their air pressure and how they want to pay.
I won’t lie, what I like about the job is meeting the customers. I like to see new faces and get to know the regulars better. I feel I’m born to it.
‘I like to see new faces and get to know the regulars better. I feel I’m born to it,’ says Nkosi | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Damsel in distress: customer Monet van Deventer. ‘I was worried when I saw she was on low tank,’ says Nkosi. ‘She was a lady, she was alone, if she ran out of petrol she might walk and get robbed. I told her, ‘I’m going to put R100. You can pay me any time.’ A grateful Monet subsequently encouraged donations by well-wishers that totalled over half a million rands
The biggest challenge of the job is concentrating! I don’t want to overcharge or put too much in the tank. Last year I added petrol instead of diesel and we had to empty the customer’s tank. I paid Shell back for the cost every month. Mistakes happen in life and the important thing is that you mustn’t run away from them.
I usually get home around 8pm, using the same personal transport. I share my daughter Anitha with her mother 50/50 and when she’s at my home, she runs straight to me and says, ‘Daddy what did you bring for me?’ I’m so happy to see her every time. I wash myself, cook rice and meat and sometimes vegetables. I play with Anitha and hold her till she goes to sleep. Once she’s sleeping, I go straight to bed. I don’t like TV so much. I turn off the light at 9pm.
Nkosi with daughter Anitha: ‘When I get home, I’m so happy to see her every time’ | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
The first time I saw Monet was the day I helped her, early on a Thursday morning. She was my third customer in the queue. When I greeted her, she asked if I could give her a minute because she was looking for her card. I washed her windows while she was busy searching in her pockets, then she told me with a sad face she won’t be putting in petrol today because she left the card at home.
I believe that God touched my heart to help Monet. Normally I would have thought, I can’t help her
I was worried about that. I asked, ‘How low is your gauge?’ and I saw it’s on low tank. I asked her if she would manage to get where she was going and she said she wasn’t sure. So I told her, ‘I’m going to put R100. Don’t worry, you can pay any time’. She was surprised and I said, ‘I’m not robbing the garage, I’m paying out of my wallet’. I showed her I was paying the R100 with my own card, and I showed her the slip.
Nkosi with mother Ndileka and brother Sakhekile in front of their Khayelitsha home | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
I won’t lie. it was hard to lend her the R100. It’s a lot of money. I didn’t know if she was going to come back or just fly away on a plane. It was my lunch money and my last R100. Normally I would have just thought, I don’t know her, I can’t help her. But I believe that God touched my heart to help her at that moment. I was worried about the N2, it can be a dangerous road, she was a lady, she was alone, if she ran out of petrol she might walk and get robbed.
Monet took my number and came back that same day with the R100, plus R50 and a chocolate. She was so happy and couldn’t believe I had helped her.
She asked to take my pic to tell her friends, and at 7pm that day, my manager Jackie called and said, ‘Did you see yourself on Facebook? There’s good news about you.’ I don’t use Facebook, so I asked my friend to look and suddenly there was my face and people talking about me! I was shocked. Monet called and said that people like the story and they want to do something for me, so can she do fundraising for me? I said yes. I couldn’t believe it, but very quickly there was R500 000! I was so surprised, I didn’t believe it at all.
Nkosi in the doorway of his home. ‘I won’t lie. it was hard to lend Monet the R100. It’s a lot of money. I didn’t know if she was going to come back or just fly away on a plane,’ says Nkosikho. ‘But I believe that God touched my heart to help her at that moment.’ | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Monet suggested putting the money in an education trust and I thought it was the right thing. Now that I’m working hard, I realise education is important and will lead you in the right direction. I would like to get a better Matric myself too, but I need to sit down with my family and talk about it. I’d also love to open a youth centre with a gym where children can play safely when their parents are working. Bad things happen to children in our streets and they learn the wrong things there. Shell has also donated half a million rand to a charity of my choice which I would like to go to a centre like this. Wow!
My mother used to force me to go to church and my friends in the street used to tease me about it and say if there was a God, He hadn’t done anything for them. But my mother always prayed for me and told me, ’Every good thing you have comes from God.’
I was part of the gangster life
I didn’t really listen and by the time I got to high school, I was doing bad things. I was part of the gangster life, and I got beaten up and left for dead on the beach. I woke up, bleeding all over and I think God showed Himself to me there. It makes me very emotional.
‘I was part of the gangster life, and I got beaten up and left for dead on the beach. I woke up, bleeding all over and I think God showed Himself to me there. It makes me very emotional,’ says Nkosi | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Slowly I changed. My mother was praying for me, I won’t lie, it wasn’t me praying at first. Now I really want to be with God. I choose to go to church and find that when I open the Bible, the verses speak to me about things in my life. I believe if you come close to God, He is alive and will give you life. When God talks, things happen.
I don’t think people have heard the word of God as it really is. They don’t know how to be close to God. Coming close to God has changed my life big time, not small time. He guides me, He is a comfort. Loving Him is not about being perfect, it’s about trying and meeting God halfway.
The most valuable lesson I can pass on to my children is: love God and love your neighbour more than yourself. Try to put someone else before you, no matter what the situation is.
‘NO MATTER HOW SMALL THE SITUATION, MAKE THE WORLD BEAUTIFUL’ … Enjoy Nkosi’s video message to you!