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A modern-day Good Samaritan

In this day and age, where so many issues are viewed with suspicion, there are still those who restore our faith in humanity. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya tells the story of how one man selflessly did the right thing to assist another human being in a tricky situation.

The phrase, ‘the Good Samaritan’, gets thrown around so casually that it cannot always be taken at face value. The ‘Shell Man’ story is one of the more recent heart-warming stories to come out of South Africa. It has reminded us of the human potential to help complete strangers without any expectations.

If ever there was to be a modern adaptation of Jesus’ parable, it would be this narrative – set in the Western Cape, South Africa.

The story has captured an enormous amount of attention in that it has shown how goodwill can flow from anywhere and in any direction.

Cape Town petrol attendant Nkosikho Mbele decided to help a driver who told him she had forgotten her bank card at home and could therefore not pay for the petrol she needed. Mbele gave her R100 for petrol because it was late at night and it would be unsafe for her to run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.

The driver, Monet van Deventer, returned the following day to repay her debt. She arrived with cash and some chocolates. Monet later posted the story on her Facebook page telling her heart-warming story of how Mbele had become her unexpected knight in shining armour.

Within just a few days, strangers had donated over R460,000 to 28-year-old Mbele. The money has been put into a trust fund and will be used in the future to educate Mbele’s children.

His employers, Shell, have pledged to donate R500 000 to a charity of Mbele’s choice.

Just as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the personalities and context in this story matter.

For many black South Africans, the Western Cape continues to be a part of the country in which they are most likely to experience racism. Petrol attendants are poorly paid and the loan of R100 – even for a friend, let alone a stranger – is not an insignificant amount of money.

With race, gender and class issues at play, Mbele would have been thought to have acted perfectly normally had he decided that the unfortunate situation the young woman found herself in was not his problem.

Still, the milk of human kindness (and petrol) flowed.

Sadly, some have gone out of their way to find a negative slant to the story.

There are some who believe that the R460 000 donated should have gone directly to Mbele to do with whatever he chose. Others believe that, as a poorly paid petrol attendant, Mbele is himself a case deserving of charity and Shell should have pledged their donation to him.

Some see Shell as trying to gain leverage and score public relations’ points on the back of the kindness of its employee.

This being a South African story, it would be incomplete if it did not address racial undertones. There are voices, particularly in social media, suggesting the only reason this story is enjoying the traction it is, is because it features a white woman.

Interestingly, little has been said about Mbele’s religious inclinations. He has hardly spoken about how this now famous act of kindness was inspired by his understanding of the Holy Scriptures of any kind. The most he has said on the matter was: “I did not expect any of this for real. I was just helping someone and the rest was God’s doing.”

This silence on theologies and creeds has reminded us, as with the original Good Samaritan story, that sometimes we spend our energies on the petty, self-indulgent projects around who has the “right” theology, rather than simply helping those in need.

As in the parable, the Shell story clouds our idea of who is the better believer. We should be grateful to Nkosikho Mbele for reminding us that the problems discussed in first century Palestine — deciding on who has a better relationship with God based only on their religious affiliation rather than their charitable works — are just as relevant 2000 years later.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.