Hero gardener saves man from burning car

John Manda pulled elderly man from a car in Rooiels

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John Manda pulled Carel van Biljon from his burning car. Photos: Ashraf Hendricks

  • Gardener John Manda pulled an elderly man from a burning car in Rooiels, Western Cape, last week.
  • Carel van Biljon, who lost the use of his legs after a stroke, was trapped in the passenger seat of his car after the exhaust caught fire.
  • His wife Mitzi called for help.
  • Manda, who was working nearby, saw the cloud of dark smoke and rushed to the scene to pull Carel van Biljon from the car.

Carel and Mitzi van Biljon bought their 1997 Mercedes Benz about eight years ago and had planned to keep it “until the end of their lives”. Both in their 80s, the couple loved the car. However, about six months ago Carel had a stroke that left his legs incapacitated, he could no longer drive, and he had to use a walker to get around.

Last Thursday, after being cooped up for months because of Carel’s condition, the couple decided they needed a long drive. With Mitzi van Biljon driving, they went from Somerset West, down the scenic R44 along the coast and into the small settlement of Rooiels, in the Overstrand Municipality.

Suddenly, the engine cut out, the car stopped, and smoke started billowing from the boot. Mitzi got out of the car and opened the boot, where she saw flames coming from the exhaust. She shouted for help. Carel was trapped in the car.

Up the road, Malawian immigrant John Manda was working in the garden of one of the Rooiels houses.

He says he saw a cloud of dark smoke rising 200 metres away from where he was working. He rushed to the scene to find a car on fire.

‘‘I saw a woman outside looking helpless. I asked: ‘Are you OK?’ The woman answered: ‘No.’ All the windows were closed and only the driver’s door was open. I looked inside and saw there was a man trapped on the front passenger’s seat. I believe he must have inhaled the dark smoke that kept coming out. God gave me strength. I opened the door and carried him outside. Within a few minutes another person showed up and we moved the man further away.”

“To lift that man was not easy and at the same time I inhaled the smoke.”

Firefighters were called and arrived very fast and put the fire out.

Manda, who comes from Nkhata Bay district in the northern region of Malawi has been in South Africa for eight years. Tragedy struck him last year when he lost his small daughter. And this year Cyclone Freddy destroyed part of his house in Malawi, where his wife lives.

He did not know the Van Biljons. ‘‘We all need each other. Whether you are rich, poor, educated or not, we just have to help with whatever we can.”

The whole thing happened very quickly, said Carel van Biljon. “I was carried away from the car and put on the ground,” he said. A Rooiels resident took the Van Biljons in and gave them tea and organised a lift home to Somerset West.

The much-loved Mercedes is a write-off. But Carel is alive, and when GroundUp spoke to Mitzi van Biljon on Saturday, she shared a wonderful development. Her husband was able to stand on his own without using his walker. With exercise, she believes his condition will improve.

Ashes where the Van Biljon’s car burned.

TOPICS:  Immigration

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