I want to share an experience that could have had so many different endings.
I was visiting my family from Australia with my 8 year old son and we were returning from the lion park with my parents after enjoying a special outing for Granny’s 73rd birthday around 4.30pm. The car we were in (which just like my folks was getting older and needed some TLC) suddenly started losing power in the middle lane on the N3 highway just after the Buccleuch interchange heading towards the Linksfield offramp somewhere between Marlboro and the infamous London road.
A gap emerged and I got into the left hand lane before the vehicle finally surrendered and gave one final cough and then died. The cars were still flying past and I was not convinced we were safe so I got my son and parents out of the car and into the relative safety of the emergency lane. I pushed the car to the “safety” of the emergency lane while my dad waved his arms frantically to warn the oncoming speeding cars of the danger ahead.
That shook us up a bit and we realised we had a situation on our hands pretty quickly. I then started trying to wave down some assistance while my mom and dad were frantically trying to find the AA details. Of course no phones had airtime or data so we had a problem. It seemed that no one was going to stop and who knows how long the AA would have taken to reach the scene.
Thanks to our local press and negative news clippings posted along the main roads, we all had the following thoughts racing through our heads. “Family robbed, shot after car breaks down.”
Then our luck turned and our faith in humanity and the future of South Africa was restored.
Miraculously about 20 minutes later a car stopped in front of us and a African man got out and started walking towards us. By now we were more than frazzled and panicked. The car was smoking and we had the bonnet open and the hazards flashing wildly. The situation was looking pretty bleak and “vrot with danger”
This man who shall now be known as St Benedict tried to assist us and get the car started. He tried sucking out fuel and blowing it back into the pipes but the car was not going anywhere. A second car stopped to assist about 10 minutes later, while the afternoon traffic passed by oblivious to our plight. Another young African man came towards us (we will call this man St Edwin) and again our thoughts turned to the local press clippings. My folks and I stood back as these guys tried a few tricks to get us moving. Nothing worked.
I was quite happy to leave the car there, get to a more familiar area, such as a garage in Linksfield and get home from there. These guys said that if we left the car there it would be stripped and torched before we would return. Options were discussed, who could we call, who could assist, where can we get to. The agreed solution was to tow the car to Linksfield which was about 15 km further along the highway.
Of course we had no tow rope between the 3 cars, so our Saints suggested cutting out the seatbelts and using them for that purpose. St Edwin returned from his car with a long panga which caused some concern about our immediate future but it was unwarranted. We opened the boot, extended the rear seatbelts to their full length and sliced them off. Using all the available resources, Macgyver style, we fashioned a 1.5m long tow rope out of the two belts and attached them to the vehicles. I was left driving the towed car and was instructed not to use the brakes unless I was too close to his boot as it would snap the rope. I have limited/no towing experience and given the 1.5m between us was not sure if I could even see a gap between the two cars. We had no choice.
We were reassured by our Saints that they would get us to safety. By now it was starting to get dark and we had been there for over an hour and my folks and son were getting extremely anxious. However, they got into the towing car and the second car created a buffer between us and the traffic about 30m behind me in the car being towed. My son kept looking anxiously out of the window and we reassued each other by exchanging smiles and thumbs up gestures. Somehow we negotiated the seemingly endless stretch of highway to Linksfield. I was tempted to hit the brakes and am convinced that at some point we were touching cars going down the highway hills but somehow I resisted. Miraculously, we slowly got over the hill next to the golf course and then the tow rope finally snapped. We were so close.
Our rescue convoy asked where we needed to go and said they wanted to get us home safely. By now the ordeal had lasted well over two hours and we just wanted to go home. We were happy to leave the car right there and just go home but as we were so close to the finish line agreed unanimously to push on. We reattached what could still be used of the tow rope and the gap was less than a metre. I was really uncomfortable towing this close and we had a massive dip to still negotiate near the Linksfield Clinic. St Edwin reassured me that I had done a fantastic job driving the towed car down the highway and he stepped in and said he would drive the tow car with me in it and leave his own car there. By now we had established some details and background of these two special men and were more than comfortable that they could be trusted and would get us home safely.
We ended up back home nearly 3 hours after we broke down and did not know how to thank our rescuers who had unselfishly given up their own time to assist us. My mom gave our Saints the biggest hugs and broke down into tears, my dad and I shook their hands and my son thanked them for saving our lives and getting us home. We bonded and exchanged contact details and took some photos to remind us of this ordeal. We asked why they had stopped and were advised that they saw two old people stranded with a young boy and did not want anything to happen to us. They feared for our safety. Both gents had families, were part time Uber drivers and luckily for us were on their way home to Tembisa and Alberton. The next few days the Saints contacted us and asked if we had calmed down, if Granny had stopped crying and how the little boy was doing. We asked for banking details so we could express our gratitude financially. One man refused any payment outright but asked us to pray for him and his family. The other man accepted his reward reluctantly.
On another day who knows what might have happened.