Recently, a routine shift in a South African pub turned into a heroic act for one of the bartenders who took part in it.

Tongai Matandirotya, a waiter at Brass Bell Restaurant near Cape Town, put his own safety—and the drink he was pouring for a customer—on the line to dive into the frigid Atlantic Ocean to save a mother and daughter who had been swept off the pier by a rogue wave. Matandirotya is a member of the South African Red Cross.

It was a rather tranquil day in the fishing community of Kalk Bay, which was unusual for the time of year. The lake was visible from the window of Brass Bells, which had a number of people strolling past it. Then everything changed in a spectacular way.

“I watched this wave come over the port and envelop the people, carrying them into the water,” said the witness to the wave. A youngster was already in the water, so I quickly went outside and stripped myself before jumping in as well. “I have a soft heart for children, and my instinct simply kicked in to see if I could be of assistance,” Matandirotya told News 24 Cape Town. “I have a really sensitive spot for children.”

Clair Gardiner, 37, and her 8-year-old daughter Arya van Hilten were among those who perished in the flood. Gardiner realized they were being dragged into the sea as soon as the wave surged over them, and she managed to throw her arms around tiny Arya before being dragged herself.

By this time, Matandirotya had dropped the drink he was pouring, pulled off his belt, and dived into the water, followed by an unidentified tourist who was not mentioned in the media. Gardiner and Arya had been separated by the fury of the waves, which had reached them even a few meters from shore. Gardiner used his belt to rescue Arya, who had been unable to keep afloat on her own for some time.

“I recently went to the restaurant to express my gratitude to him,” Gardiner said, according to local news. “He was instantly identified by my daughter, and we all hugged one other in joy. They saved our lives and we will be eternally grateful to Tongai and the visitor who sacrificed their own lives to rescue ours.”

Following his heroics, Tongai realized that he had been seriously scraped up by the concrete wall of the pier, but it was too late to do anything about it. He determined that the mostly-cosmetic damage was not cause for concern.

Brasil Bell commended their employee on Facebook, stating that they were “very proud” of him and grateful for his gallantry. Several comments reminded him to “tip him well,” and the post went viral.

By Elen

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