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When motorists pull up next to Sibongiseni Nkosi in Auckland Park, he smiles, waves and asks them about their day. But unlike a month ago, he does not have to beg them for food or small change.
Instead, 22-year-old Nkosi is proudly earning his keep as a trainee petrol attendant to support himself and gran at home.
And it is all thanks to his kind act of helping motorist Vic Campher push his broken down car two weeks ago – something he never thought would turn his life around.
Campher, whose hobby is classic cars, told News24 he was driving his old Jaguar down Kingsway Avenue when it broke down and he was stuck.
“It was 18:30 and getting dark. I was worried about how to get back but then Tom, which is Sibongiseni’s street name, came running along and started helping me.”
Campher said they had to push the car back to the Volvo dealership where he is a managing director.
“He had to push the car quite far. He never asked questions and kept on pushing. He gave the best he could and we got the car back and locked it up.”
‘I thought let’s give him a chance’
In chatting with Nkosi, Campher recognised him as he would beg at the nearby traffic lights.
He gave him R50 and a burger and chips but also got to thinking about the wise words of Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus who recently said there were lots of societal problems in the country and that real pressure was not having a job.
“He said he was off the glue and clean. I thought let’s give him a chance and see if he can clean up.”
Nkosi rushed to his Vrededorp home to get his ID, something his granny was apparently reluctant to hand over because she thought he wanted to sell it.
She has taken care of him since he was 3 years old. His mom died when he was young and he does not know where his dad is.
Campher, whose family also owns the Engen petrol station on the same premises, then gave him a uniform, a trainee bib and an opportunity to show what he was made of.
Life on the street
And so far, he has been impressed.
“He’s a real nice chap and he’s done so well. The amazing thing is that people who got used to him being on the street corner started asking where he is and what happened to him. Then they found out he is working here.”
Nkosi recalled that he was looking for money to buy food the evening he met “father” [Campher].
“I didn’t expect the job,” he said softly. “Life was bad because when it was raining, I was there on the street. When it was cold, when it was hot, every time I was there because I needed to buy something.”
He said his gran was happy that he could now provide for them.
“I don’t want to go back on the street because there is no life. You smoke too much and you are killing yourself.”
Nkosi’s supervisor, Innocent, told News24 he almost cried when he saw him at work that morning in his uniform and was asked to train him.
“Sometimes he would come here and ask for something. Now if you see him, you would be impressed.
“He has a lot of energy and runs up and down here now. I am scared he might even be running after my supervisor job,” he joked.
Innocent said the whole team was fully behind Nkosi. And tears are the order of the day.
“A lot of customers just get out the car and say they are proud of you. Those who recognise him – they cried their tears out.”
Campher is in the process of setting up a bank account for Nkosi.