Photo Credit: Supplied

Pacific Mbela tackles charity runs after surviving having a tumour in his brain; Amy Maciver met up with him to learn more.


Cape Town, South Africa (12 April 2024) – Pacific Mbela is waiting for me at the entrance to the coffee shop. We’ve exchanged a few texts and one very brief phone call before meeting, but he hugs me like an old friend as he says hello and I already know his 45-minute lunch break isn’t going to be nearly enough time with him.

We find a quiet corner to have lunch, he orders a chicken wrap, and I ask him to tell me about his life, and what led him to run a 56km ultramarathon for charity just five years after doctors miraculously removed a large tumour lodged in his brain.

Mbela was born in Kinshasa. His father passed away when he was 3, his mother when he was 5. He was shipped off to be raised by his uncle, and his brother sent off to an aunt. When war broke out in the DRC his brother fled to South Africa, and three years later – in 2013 – he sent word for Pacific to come and join him. After a gruelling five-day bus ride from Lubumbashi (via Zambia and Zimbabwe), Mbela arrived in Cape Town with a bag of clothes, an asylum visa, and a feeling of trepidation. He knew two words of English – ‘yes’ and ‘no’. On his first outing to the supermarket in his new hometown a cashier asked whether he’d like a plastic bag. It was a toss up between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. He went with ‘no’. Glancing between Mbela and the pile of groceries he’d just bought, the cashier picked up a packet and waved it in front of his face. Ah. ‘Yes’, he said.

Realising that getting a handle on the English language was going to be essential to surviving in his new world, Mbele signed up for an introductory course, and then, an intermediate one. After passing both, his English was proficient enough to take orders, and he managed to get a job at a well-known health-food franchise. There he cut his teeth, and then took a job at a popular coffee shop to work as a barista.

Towards the end of 2016, he started getting strange headaches.

“I thought maybe I was stressed, or not getting enough rest. I went to the hospital two or three times and they said there was nothing unusual going on. But I knew I wasn’t ok.

One day I was working the late shift and I started to feel dizzy. I collapsed at work and I thought I was having a stroke on the left side of my body. My manager called the ambulance and they took me to the emergency room at Victoria Hospital. They ran a bunch of tests and said they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. So they gave me some Panado and booked me for a scan”.

Mbela had to wait until February 2017 for a scan appointment.

“During that time, I kept passing out and having headaches. Eventually, I went for the scan at Groote Schuur Hospital, and the doctor said to me, ‘Look, we can see a tumour in your brain, and the only way we can cure it is to do surgery’.

The earliest available slot for surgery was May. Medication or alternative treatment was not an option, the tumour needed to be removed.

“I went home and started praying. I was very down. And the more time passed, the more the tumour grew. It was on the left side and it was blocking my blood circulation, so I was having regular stroke-like symptoms. In April, after I had another episode, work even requested that I stay home”.

After several postponements, Mbela’s surgery was scheduled for July 2017. He was told it was a dangerous procedure, the odds were not in his favour.

“I didn’t know it would be a 12-hour surgery. I went into surgery at 6am. The next time I remember being conscious was around 6:30pm. I have never felt pain like that in my life. I felt like someone had taken a hammer and was knocking it against my head. I could not walk or even sit. The nurses had to help change me, bath me and all those things.”

Five days after surgery he was discharged. The left side of his body was still paralysed and his future remained uncertain. Doctors warned he may not walk again.

A month after being discharged from hospital, Mbela went back to work. He was still heavily medicated and one of the side effects of the drugs was unwanted weight gain.

“I’d never run in my life before. But I needed to do something to start losing weight so I tried running. And I found the passion. I remember my first road race was a 15km race which I ran at 75 minutes. I didn’t have a coach, I didn’t have a running club, I didn’t know anything about running, but I ran my first half marathon in 2019 and I did 1h46’.”

“During lockdown I started watching YouTube videos about running and getting more serious about running to raise funds. And since then my motto is: Let every run that I do have an impact on the community.

I have run a number of marathons for charity in the last three years. When I signed up to run Two Oceans Marathon for Groote Schuur Hospital they could not believe it. They are shocked about the money I am raising for them.”

“After what happened to me, I am just so grateful for my life, and I thank God for that. Coming out of this situation has allowed me to see life in a different way and to see how sometimes we do not appreciate life. So I ask myself every day what I am doing for others. I never ever thought that one day I could run. But now I run, and I do it for others”.

To support Pacific Mbela please visit his GivenGain page here: He is hoping to raise R50,000 for the Groote Schuur Hospital.

Sources: Supplied
Don’t ever miss the Good Things. Download the Good Things Guy App now on Apple or Google
Do you have something to add to this story? Please share it in the comments or follow GoodThingsGuy on Facebook & Twitter to keep up to date with good news as it happens, or share your good news with us by clicking here or click the link below to listen to the Good Things Guy Podcast with Brent Lindeque – South Africa’s very own Good Things Guy. He’s on a mission to change what the world pays attention to, and he truly believes there’s good news around us. In the Good Things Guy podcast, you’ll meet these everyday heroes & hear their incredible stories:

Or watch an episode of Good Things TV below, a show created to offer South Africans balance in a world with what feels like constant bad news. We’re here to remind you that there are still so many good things happening in South Africa & we’ll leave you feeling a little more proudly South African.

Charity and charity.

Facebook Comments

About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *