DURBAN - A 60-year-old grandmother of six youngsters, Janet Hart, was overwhelmed with tears as she hugged her ‘storm hero’ Sibusiso Matrick Mbhele, 40.
When torrential rain pelted Durban on Tuesday, Hart had been paralysed with shock as muddy flood water rose around her silver A-Class Mercedez Benz, trapping her inside the vehicle on the N2 highway near the former Durban International Airport site, south of the city.
The Bluff resident was rescued by Mbhele, a then unknown man, who had stripped away his overalls in freezing weather and paddled across the dangerous water to rescue Hart and carry her to safety.
Hart said, “I was speaking to my son on the phone and he was telling me to stay in the car but I was freaked out because I just see water rising around me and that’s when I saw someone my window and he said ‘Mama are you alright? I’m a lifesaver’ and he saved my life.”
The pair reunited at the Bluff-based surgery of Hart’s husband, Ricky, who handed Mbhele a white envelope which contained a cheque that Mbhele had not yet opened.
“This is from my family, my children, grandchildren and my mother who is 85-years-old. Ngiyabonga kakhulu [thank you very much]. You really don’t know what you’ve done for us. I’ve got my wife back in one piece and it’s because of you,” said Ricky to Mbhele.
Mbhele told the couple that the rescue effort was simply his duty.
“I didn’t expect anything, I was just doing my duty,” he said.
Mbhele, a Time Freight driver, was heading to Port Shepstone to deliver a package when the storm slammed the city. He parked on the side of the highway and approached several vehicles offering help.
“I think maybe some people thought I was a hooligan or something and didn’t want me to help them. When I saw you (Hart) I could see you were in shock,” he said.
After rescuing Hart, Mbhele went on to pull several others, including children, from the raging flood water.
He drew his lifesaving instincts from his years as a voluntary lifeguard at the North Coast Lifesaving Club where he trained.
“My family and I were victims of the 1980’s flood in the Midlands and after that I knew I had to become a friend of the water,” he told the Sunday Tribune.
He added: “When you give a hand to someone, God will bless you. I didn’t expect all this publicity, it is our duty as humans.”