He patrols the leafy suburb in an Audi, armed with a pickaxe, a shovel and a bag of asphalt. His eyes scan the road, looking for targets – and because he’s in Joburg it doesn’t take long before he pulls up alongside the bane of motorists everywhere: a pothole.
Rainer Dixel steps out of his car, pulls on his hat and walks to his trailer to extract his tools. Legs spread, feet planted firmly, he swings his pickaxe, scattering stones and bits of tar.
Squatting, he proceeds to fill the hole with asphalt he’s bought at his local hardware store. He stamps it down with a metal tamper tool, wipes the sweat from his brow and steps back to admire his handiwork. It’s backbreaking work for anyone, let alone a man of 82 – but Rainer isn’t about to sit back and do nothing.
READ MORE| What happens if a pothole or roadworks damage your car?
“I see what’s happening in my neighbourhood and it’s not helping things to complain all the time,” the retired mechanical engineer says. “While I still can, I want to make a difference.
“Something as small as filling a pothole in the road cannot only make someone’s day, but it can also save lives.”
Rainer’s work is clearly visible around Bryanston, the neighbourhood where he lives with his wife, Sue. “I’ve kept count of how many potholes I’ve fixed. It’s definitely more than 50,” he says.
Today he’s accompanied by his friend Andy Leitner from Austria, Rainer’s country of birth, who’s here on holiday.
His pal has been roped in as an apprentice and is impressed with his old friend. “It’s really inspiring to see how Rainer is making a difference in his community at his age.”
Rainer has been fixing potholes for three years.
“After I retired and sold my mechanical engineering business in Randfontein, I started doing odd jobs at the nearby petrol station. They asked me if I could fix a pothole for them and that was the first of many,” he says.
Many passersby who saw him in action thought he was a homeless person trying to do some good, Rainer says with a chuckle.
“They offered me money, food and drinks.”
Rainer, who’s lived in Bryanston for more than 30 years, took it on himself to tackle other potholes in his area at his own expense.
“I buy everything with my own money. A bag of asphalt costs between R170 and R200 and sometimes I have to spend more if there’s a big hole to be filled.”
His work has drawn praise from his neighbours and fellow motorists.
“People tell me they feel safer on the road and their cars aren’t damaged. They stop if they see me and offer me money, but I refuse it. I don’t do this for money.”
Rainer moved from Austria to South Africa in 1970 after studying engineer-ing in Vienna.
“I heard there was a high demand for engineers in South Africa. My plan was to stay here for two years, make money and go back to Austria, but I stayed and met my wife here.”
READ MORE| This South African comedian will make you belly laugh as he takes on our pothole problem
Sue (70) says her husband kept his pothole mission a secret from her at first.
“Rainer has back problems and he thought I’d object, but it doesn’t bother me. It keeps him busy and he’s doing something good.”
When he’s not fixing potholes or doing odd jobs around the house, Rainer enjoys watching tennis.
“I used to play in South Africa’s veteran league,” he says. “I also had a tennis court built in our backyard.”
Even though he has been on the planet for eight decades, Rainer says he’s in good health.
“My doctor just warned me not to climb up ladders. I’ve always been good with my hands and if I can help make our country a better place, I’ll do it until I can’t anymore.
“I’ve never been a lazy man. I need to keep busy and it keeps me fit.”