The brutalising daily experiences of Windhoek’s car-guards as winter arrives

As the sun breaks through the clouds over an awakening Klein Windhoek, somewhere away from the curious eye of the public, David Kooper jumps into his ragged clothes before throwing on his reflectors.

He has been living under a bridge for seven years now and scars from past knife-fights shows a man who has seen it all within the crime-riddled underworld.

““The circumstances (are) not very fine, drain water is thrown (and passes) nearby and the smell is not even good. Sleeping under boxes,” Kooper tells this reporter. 

Life has been tough and with it has come near death experiences and risks but he has to face it if he is to make it in this unforgiving city of the haves and the have-nots.

There is no breakfast for him this morning and together with his crew, or brothers as he likes to call them, they emerge on the top of the bridge to begin their daily job at Hydas Centre.

They know him as Bones around here and he has managed to make it his territory, at least for him and his brothers in arms,  asking for left-overs of tiny silver coins from drivers whose cars they would have guarded.

It had taken us two weeks to finally catch up with this intelligent-sounding and articulate 30-year old and finally he had agreed for an interview to get a small glimpse through his rough world.

He prefers the conversation include his crew as well.

Dodging the police and landing in jail for offences at times not committed by the brothers is normal here as they ply their trade midst criminals and drug pushers.

“There is this group called The Rubicons, the neighborhood watch. In the night we sleep there and these guys come and kick us and so on. We can’t even make complaints at the police stations,” says one of the brothers.

More often than not, they had seen themselves by police stations seeking relief from the harassment but to no avail.

“They do not take our complaints that seriously,” he says.

Just a week ago, Bones had to borrow a jacket from a colleague to wad off the cold but he had made another unforeseen blunder____ The friend had committed a crime and was on the run and Bones  was mistaken by the police for his friend due to the jacket. 

“I have been locked up until yesterday night and they released me,” he says and I press him with a curious question as to whether he was afraid of jail. 

“Me? I am afraid,” he stamps, “It’s not a good place that one for a person,” he says.

Looking at the crew, every one of them seem to have the unmistakable scar in the face that tells of unimaginable knife-fights.

A few months earlier in the same area, the police had to be rushed in when a fierce fight led to a critical stabbing that saw one of the car-guards battling for his life.

And so I press the other brother, who had until now not dare tell me his name,  on how he had gotten his ugly scar in the face but he seems intoxicated enough and struggles with a few Damara words.

“He says he was with his girlfriend and suddenly the other friend touched him from behind at the shoulder. When he turned he was cut with a razor blade,” says the other brother.

Bones chips in to explain the scars and how they come by.

“The minute the guys always pull out their hands, they just want to face the face. They do not want to stab any places. It’s only the face that they want. If you are stabbed in the face it is to harm you (not to kill). But in the body parts it’s very difficult, you can’t say whether he will die or can die,” he says.

As the brothers later explain, such fights are often provoked by invaders who would want to take over territories or those found on the wrong side at the wrong time. 

The dangers do not only emanate from within but from drivers of cars left under their watch and these, as Bones says, often bring guns and threaten them with a shot to the head if their cars get stolen.

“There is a lot of them in the night time.  If the car is gone you must be gone (killed)! So if they come and see it’s broken (into) then they want to know what happened at that moment.  So they want to (pull out a gun and point it at me) or load you in a car and drive away with you and beat you up,” he says.  

The other brother interjects with a recent episode where one such driver pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot everyone of them before he drove off on a second thought.

How these car-guards handle such life-threatening situations tells a lot about their uncelebrated professionalism and bravery which often times comes out as rather mere Dutch-courage.

Says Bones, “We just talk straight with them that they must calm down. So they must not get much aggressive. (They) would want to pull out the trigger.”

Although the brothers denied using drugs, they said most of the profits they make, which average N$150 on a daily basis, goes towards alcohol. 

“We drink. Me myself I am drinking so that I may have that power. If he threatens me then I can threaten back,” Bones says. 

Although they have to buy a few clothes when absolutely necessary, they say alcohol provides a form of escape from their harsh realities and as Bones puts it, beer “Makes me feel great!” 

“But food, I just (deal with) other people that just park here, the Boers mostly, I tell them they must buy for me only food. I don’t need any money. Am just guarding your car,” he says. 

As the interview comes to its conclusion, Bones and crew tell me they have hopes that life will change and it is such a solid hope which they have for a long time pinned on government.

“At the municipality, just a general job is what I want,” says Bones as his brother shares his idea of the Homeless People Parliament.