Eight years as a petrol attendant. Today he owns a law firm

Lawyer David Masilela pulls in at his local garage to fill up. While the dispenser empties next week’s kilometres into the tank, Masilela climbs out to greet the attendant. This place is more than a necessary pitstop – it’s a reminder of how far he has come. Locking eyes with the man as they shake hands, the attorney’s grin deepens with pleasure. This isn’t just a pleasant courtesy. It’s a message: This is where it started for me too.

For Masilela, big dreams started in childhood, when he envisioned himself as the first among his ten siblings to go to university. The goal was simple, but way out of reach. His parents didn’t have much, not even the means to buy him school shoes. Since continuing his studies immediately after matriculating wasn’t an option, Masilela picked up a job as a petrol attendant. And stayed there for eight years.

Until he saved enough to attend university, surrounded by other hopeful young minds embarking on the beginning of their lives. By the time Masilela arrived for his first lecture, he’d been out of school long enough to have graduated twice over. He sat among his younger peers overwhelmed by the occasion, the moment more special to him than they could comprehend. While many around Masilela had made a seamless transition from classroom to lecture theatre, adequate marks their only hurdle, he had toiled for nearly a decade to get there.

Once Masilela arrived there was no stopping him. He ploughed through his law courses, acquiring academic bursaries after his first year and accumulating 22 distinctions by the time he graduated. He proceeded to complete his articles in Pretoria, before opening his own law firm. Now a respected lawyer, Masilela has come a long way from his humble beginnings, but hasn’t forgotten them. Determined to uplift others, most of his legal work is pro bono. In addition, Masilela returns to his village to deliver school shoes and mentor youngsters. He is the role model they deserve, and the example South Africa needs.