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Anton Crone – Car guards of Long street

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Anton Crone, featured before on 10and5 is a professional freelance photographer who has a serious interest in Africa, which is clearly highlighted in the type of portfolio work he does, and the ‘about’ section in his blog: Bright Continent, which starts off with a quote from George Kimble – “The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it”.

In his latest work, Anton has documented the stories, journeys and remarkable feats that the Long street Car Guards have to endure, through a photographic essay, recorded on his blog. But we thought it best to put it up for all of you too see, and read, and feel..

These are the car guards of Long Street. They are the detritus of the DRC; the flotsam of the Congo River. Most have lived along the river that feeds the heart of darkness. Now they trawl Cape Town’s brook of booze.

The tributaries that flow into Long – Buiten, Bloem, Pepper and Leeuwen – are their fishing grounds. They are bright men from a dark place. Some are university graduates. Some are trained mechanics. Many are trying to earn money to learn a trade.
I meet Pappi. He spent 1 year at university in Kinshasa before political intimidation forced him out. Far short of the R4000 he needs for a 3 week welding course, he earns R50 on a good night and lives not far from here with 3 other Congolese in a room in the Bo Kaap.

This is Jules who sends money back to his family in Kinshasa. He is a proud man and finds it degrading to guard cars. The first night I meet him he is full of life and laughs at my pathetic attempts at French. The second night, he is sombre because no one has parked on his street. I meet him a third time and I am the only car on his street. He thanks me for the tip then scuttles off to the corner cafe for some food.
In 2009 the estimated death rate in the DRC was 45 000 people a month due to famine, disease and conflict, this despite efforts since 2004 to rebuild the nation. Studies show that 76% of the population has been affected in some way by conflict. 100% of these car guards have been affected, and they are here trying to piece things together. This country can be a haven of sorts.

There are quite a few drivers who don’t give them money. One argument is that you already pay for car insurance so why pay someone else on top of that. Another argument is they can’t all be trusted, that some work for syndicates that steal cars. But where there are stories of robberies taking place under the watch of car guards it is certain there are 10 000 times as many stories untold, of cars parked on dodgy streets that go untouched, of carefree nights on Long, and many other streets. Sadly, there are many stories of flush folk with flash cars who ignore them, who drive off without offering so much as a nod.

Pappi says he understands if someone doesn’t have the cash to tip him, he just wants to be acknowledged in that case. Jules agrees and where the average tip is between 2 and 5 Rand, he says every cent makes a difference.

And what if there were no car guards?

No doubt many more cars would be stolen or broken into. Insurance premiums would go up, probably above what one spends tipping car guards. Without the ordered network they have created, we would have more vagrancy, more theft, more dealers, more dark nights.

Congolese, Zimbabwean, Malawian or South African, car guards are part of the ebb and flow of things. Acknowledge them. Give them what you can, you’ll brighten the night of someone who’s known little more than darkness.


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