Between the parking spaces

2013-04-30 16:57

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They’re often an invisible part of everyday life, but many informal car guards have extraordinary tales of talent.

Mukengerwa ‘Tresor’ Rizziki: Musician

He was 17 when his parents died, and 20 when he left his home town of Goma in the DRC to make a new life in South Africa. He had dreams of making it in the music industry.

When Tresor first arrived in Durban, after travelling by train from Burundi through Tanzania and Malawi, all he had with him, apart from a few personal belongings, were three songs and a music video he’d made of himself.

‘Only one of my songs was in English, so the first thing I did was borrow a French-English dictionary so I could translate,’ he says.

The only way he could make money was by working as a car guard by day and security guard at night.

‘Wearing a car-guard vest was very humiliating for me,’ he says. ‘Although my family wasn’t rich, we had enough money and I’d been to a good school. Being a car guard is one of the lowest jobs you can get in South Africa, and I was ashamed to tell my family how I was earning my living.’

Despite his desperate circumstances, Tresor kept his sights on his musical goals, and bought a guitar as soon as he had saved enough money.

‘I surfed the internet for music production companies, and eventually met up with Durban-based producer Rod Nichols.’

After getting airplay on local radio stations, Tresor joined up with other musicians and formed the band Maisha, which means ‘life’ in Swahili.

As their popularity grew, they were invited to perform with Freshlyground, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lira and Johnny Clegg.

Today Tresor has a record deal with Universal Music, airplay on MTV Base and Channel O, and he recently won the 2013 Holiday Inn Express Hotels’ songwriting competition.

‘Starting off as a car guard taught me many lessons,’ the talented musician says.

‘I learnt that I should never underestimate a broken bridge, because it can be mended in order to take you to the other side of the river. Sometimes, a mended bridge is even stronger than the original one.’

Alen Abrahams: Youtube sensation

He used to sleep under a bridge in Green Point, Cape Town, if he hadn’t made enough money to get home.

These days, he’s more likely to be in the studio opposite the bridge, recording some of his hilarious and unique Cape Flats ‘Oprikaans’ songs.

Having dropped out of Modderdam High School in Athlone in Grade 8, Alen Abrahams turned to petty theft to survive before becoming a car guard.

‘I realised my son needed a father he could be proud of,’ he says of his decision to work in a parking lot.

He used to make between R50 and R100 a day in summer and only R20 in winter.

To improve his earnings, he entertained car owners by singing old RnB songs.

‘People would take out their cellphones and record me,’ he says.

He changed the lyrics of popular songs – Justin Bieber’s hit ‘Baby’ became ‘Meisie’ and spoke about abuse and poverty; Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ became ‘Pam’, a song about the transvestites of Cape Town.

‘Kerrie’ is about a family who is too poor to have meat in their curry.

‘A woman uploaded her video of me on YouTube,’ Alen says.

‘I didn’t know this until people started calling out, “Kerrie!”’

Heart 104.9 FM DJ Aden Thomas also saw Alen’s act and enlisted the help of his friend Marlon Kruger to track down the mischievous car guard.

Aden and Alen eventually met and after charming listeners with his quick wit and bittersweet lyrics, Alen has his sights set on bigger things.

‘When Marlon said he wanted to be my manager, my heart exploded,’ Alen says.

‘I thought, “This is the moment I’ve been waiting for all my life.”’

Apart from wanting to perform for bigger crowds, Alen’s future plans include finding a place of his own so he can live with his children, Abdul, 10, and five-year-old Zahrah.

Fernando Brice Olivier Ogadi: Maths teacher

When he left the DRC because of political instability and arrived in South Africa in 2004, Fern ando Ogadi, a qualified maths teacher, had few options.

‘Life back home was difficult for teachers because politics often interfered with how we did our work,’ he says. ‘We were focused on the future of children, but politics got in the way.’

While car guarding in the Zomerlust Spar parking lot in Paarl, Fernando continued to practice his calling.

Using a donated blackboard, he spent his time explaining maths equations to children who waited outside while their parents shopped.

‘My love for maths began when I was in Grade 8. I’m passionate about the subject because it helps me think broadly about life.’

The soft-spoken man says he didn’t enjoy working as a car guard because he wasn’t living his purpose.

‘I felt like I had lost my life because car guarding was not my profession. Teaching is,’ he says simply.

Happily, his talent did not go unnoticed and Ansie Peens, headmaster at Sunward Park High in Boksburg, offered Fernando a position as a teacher’s assistant after seeing him interviewed on the kykNET magazine show Kwêla.

‘I was very happy when Ms Peens brought me back to my original job, teaching,’ Fernando says.

He adds that he loves all his Sunward Park pupils.

‘They are very disciplined and, as an experienced teacher, I’m able to rein them in when they’re not,’ he laughs.

The committed educator says that he plans to be the best teacher in South Africa one day.

» Get your copy of iMag in City Press on Sundays.

Alen Abrahams. Picture: Leanne Stander/ Foto24

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