Angel from Zimbabwe


We were traveling from Kasane near the Chobe National Park back to Francistown.  One stretch of road for about 100 kilometers was literally covered in potholes.  There was almost no traffic, so we were able to use both sides of the road to avoid the potholes.  We were about two hours south of Kasane and four hours north of Francistown, when I swerved to miss a table-sized pothole in the middle of the road.  Unfortunately, as I swerved to the left, I hit another pothole on the left of the road.  This pothole was almost deep enough to hide a giraffe.  We were immediately aware that we had a flat tire and pulled over to take a look.  To our dismay we found that we had two flat tires.  Although we didn’t realize it at the time, our situation was very serious:

  • We had two flat tires and only one spare.
  • The car’s jack was missing.
  • We were in the middle of nowhere.  The closest services other than petrol were four hours away.
  • We were in an area prone for wildfires. We had passed many that day.
  • The area was inhabited by elephants, lions and hyenas.
  • There was almost no traffic on the road.


However, before we could grasp our predicament, a white bakkie (small pickup) stopped and the driver asked us if we needed help.  We told him we had two flat tires.  He said more likely you have two bent wheels.  He had bent a wheel on the same stretch the week before.  He used his jack and helped us put our spare on the front left and take off the rear left wheel.  He suggested that the best thing might be for him to take our wheels to Francistown, get them fixed and have someone return them to us.  He would not get to Francistown before the shops closed, so it would most likely be late the next day before we would get our wheels back.  His expression changed and he asked one of the Assistants to get his spare from his bakkie.  To both his and our surprise, the bakkie truck spare fit our Nissan car.  Our wheels are 17 inch with low profile tires and his 14 inch with thick tires.  The total diameter of both was almost equal and the wheel had the right number of holes for the lugs.


The man who stopped was named Tinus.  He said he lived in Zimbabwe, but because of the economic situation there was working and staying in Pandamatenga about an hour south of Kasane.  He asked us what we were doing in Africa.  We told him we were missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He said, “If I had known you were Mormons, I might not have stopped,” and then he smiled.


Just then one of his employees drove by and stopped.  Tinus said he needed to go ahead because he had an appointment in Nata, a small village with a couple of petrol stations.  He asked his employee to follow us to make certain we had no further problems.  At Nata, we met up with Tinus. He asked how the car was driving with his spare.  We told him it was fine.  He said, “Let’s head on to Francistown.”  He followed us all the way to Francistown.  Since the shops were closed, we made arrangements to meet him at 7:30 am at a tire store.  He had called around and determined that there was no one in Francistown who could fix our wheels.  We discussed alternatives, including buying new wheels.  He asked us to leave his spare at a friend’s store and then left.


We tried the Nissan dealer and they had no wheels.  We returned to the first tire store that was now open.  We learned alloy wheels come only in sets of four and would cost more than 3000 pula ($500).  I said, “This Toyota HiLux wheel with a truck tire works fine, can we buy two of them.”  The owner said we could and the total cost for both the wheels and the tires would be 1200 pula ($200).  Just as we were discussing this option, Tinus walked up.  He said he had left his bakkie at a nearby repair facility to work on his electrical system.  When I told him what we were thinking, he said, “If you buy the HiLux wheels and those tires, I will buy them from you if you can get them to my son’s home in Polokwane.”  Since we have missionaries in Polokwane, we said, “We’ve got a deal.”  And he left.


Now, we had another problem.  How do we get our wheels and tires back to Johannesburg?  Our spare was now in its place and the trunk (boot) was full.  A car top carrier was suggested.  We tried a couple of places.  None of the racks would fit our car. One place suggested we might try Barloworld.  As we drove up to Barloword, one of the Assistants said, “There is Tinus!”  And there he was talking to another man.  Tinus asked us how things were going.  We told him our new predicament.  The man Tinus was talking to was named Seppie.  Seppie said, “I have trucks going to Gaborone all the time, I would be happy to take them there.”  We dropped off the wheels at Seppie’s place of business and headed on to Johannesburg.  We arrived in Johannesburg just three hours later than we had originally planned; glad to be home and glad to be safe.


Every time we had a need, Tinus would appear.  We call him our Zimbabwe angel.  Whether Tinus believes it or not, we believe he was heaven sent.