As their moniker suggests these self appointed angels guard ‘your treasure while you’re at leisure.’ Echoing the impetus of the infamous New York subway Guardian Angels of the 80’s, this group of car guards have taken it upon themselves to take the law into their own hands and prevent car park crime for a small fee.
Born out of crime and survival the Guardian Angels of the Durban beachfront were conceived in 1995 when Paul Gibb and a few of his friends, often on the wrong side of the law, caught a fleeing offender that had just broken into a car and stolen some valuables. The owners gave them money in gratitude and relief. They saw the potential of this unexpected random event to stay off the street and ‘keep the law off their back.’
The Guardian Angels grew through word of mouth from 5 members to 19 today, all in some way compromised by life. With the surfing community as their main demographic, the surfers started handing the Angels their car keys for safe keeping and soon a unique form of trust and symbiosis developed.
Meet the Guardian Angels who have become an integral part of Durban surf culture…
Words and Images by Hayden Phipps
Danie Pretorius (above) / 43 / Angle for 1 year / Danie takes every day as it comes. He had a difficult childhood but believes he came out on top. With a passion for art he is good with his hands and enjoys drawing, especially technical drawing and designing cars and boats. He believes God will bless.
Paul Gibb (above) / 44 / Angel for 20 years / Founder and one of the only remaining original members. A highlight of his 20 years as an angel was when a customer, in conjunction with a local charity, sponsored him to get the necessary dental work after years of drug abuse ruined his teeth.
Johan Janse van Rensburg (above) / 54 / Angel for 15 years / Johan was forced to join the Angels after his business partners, who also happen to be in-laws, embezzled money and fled the country. This put strain on his marriage which subsequently broke up. He would love to get back into the tourism industry but they also took off with his only tour bus.
Patrick Mason (above) / 58 / Angel for 14 years / Mauritian born Patrick was retrenched by a national telecommunications company after 26 years of service. He was unemployed for two years before becoming a member of the Angels. He uses his skills as a technician to repair his customers’ watches and has prevented three break-ins thus far.
Sean Mills (above) / 61 / Angel for 20 years / Sean is another one of the original members and has a background in mechanical fitting and rigging. His favourite pastime is fishing. He recalls the day he was paid R700 for guarding a customer’s Ferrari.
Jan Joubert (above) / 49 / Angel for 15 years / Jan is a construction boiler maker of 14 years that has fallen on hard times due to lack of opportunities in the field. Divorced with two kids he hasn’t seen his family in 19 years after he lost their contact number and they moved house. A keen athlete and Victor Ludorum at school, Jan has always wanted to work on boats and has a special relationship with the sea.
Edward Donald Weftphal (above) / 63 / Angel for 9 years / Initially a welder and boiler maker by trade, Edward started buying and selling goods to survive while also being supported by his wife’s disability pension before joining the Angels. He has a passion for animals and would love to work with them. The best he can do is feed the stray cats and birds as well as care for his hamster, Eddy. Edward recounts fondly that a customer gifted him a bicycle, his only transport, and another customer donated a surf board. He loves how young it makes him feel.
Marck Hill (above) / 52 / Angel for 7 years / Marck grew up in various children’s homes alongside his eight siblings and suffers from epilepsy. He lived on the street for five years and worked as a fitter and turner, waterman, security guard and pawn shop employee after leaving the army and before joining the Angels. He lost an eye on one of his shifts after a drunk homeless man, interfering with one of his customers, stabbed him with a pen. His five personal principles are: live in God’s image, communication, integrity, love and respect.
Lenro Taylor (above) / 54 / Angel for 9 years / Widower, construction welder of 12 years and fireman who had a stroke at age 44 which affected the left side of his body. Lenro is proud of being of service to his community and muses that if you look after your customer’s, they look after you.
Sarel Pretorius (above) / 59 / Angel for 5 years / Newly wed Sarel worked on the mines before being retrenched and would happily go back any day. His hobby is airbrushing and his favourite subjects are portraits and nature.
Santelize Pretorius (above) / 48 / Angel for 6 months / Grandmother of twins and the only woman part of the Guardian Angels, Santelize used to work as a security officer for a company before they stopped paying her and abruptly closed their doors. She enjoys crocheting, knitting, reading love stories and is busy making a tablecloth for a friend. Santelize also carries a whip, known as a sjambok, with her as protection but is yet to use it.
Seun Hatting (above) / 60 / Angel for 2 years / Ex policeman and security officer who sustained an eye injury while on duty. Seun is a church going man and believes God speaks to him through the goodness of his customers. He had the good fortune of receiving a R1000 from a customer and was taken out for dinner. It is not uncommon for customers to take Seun and his family shopping and out to lunch or dinner. He prides himself on being self reliant but welcomes the support of God through his prayers.
Sollie Miller (above) / 54 / Angel for 7 months / Ex train driver Sollie lost his leg in an accident on the tracks at the age of 22. He then became a truck driver and has been waiting for his PDP license before he is able to work again. With only half his liver and bladder due to kidney cancer, he now has to wear a colostomy bag. Sollie’s real passion though is the fight against drugs and he would prefer to work with the police in order to curb drug abuse.
Andrew Swart (above) / 28 / Angel for 6 years / Youngest of the Angels, Andrew dropped out of school in grade 10 and left home due to family trouble. He worked as a security guard but the salary was too low to survive on. He reckons being fast, fit, healthy and strong is what makes him a good Angel. Between shifts he’s out in the water surfing alongside his customers.
Albert Wilkie (above) / 52 / Angel for 2 years / Grandson of the famous Wilkie from the Boswell & Wilkie Circus, Albert was clown for 25 years in this travelling circus. He inherited his passion for the caring of animals from his mom who was the dog trainer and his dad the lion tamer, and he would love to be a veterinarian. Albert was recently in a coma for eight months due to a diabetic episode.
Deon Henrico (above) / 51 / Angel for 4 years / The best thing about being a Guardian Angel for Deon is that it keeps him off the streets and gives him something to work for. He served in the army until he was injured, requiring a knee replacement operation. Deon joined the Angel’s after meeting a retired Angel at a shelter.
Fanie Coetzee (above) / 62 / Angel for 3 months / Fanie, a retired general construction foreman, was forced to seek employment due to his meager state pension. He is the newest member of the Guardian Angels and it has been an adjustment but he is hoping to work himself up to being a supervisor.
Phillip Hatting (above) / 30 / Angel for 1 year / Son of fellow Angel, Seun, Phillip joined the Angel’s to help his family out financially. He gets excited to go to work because it gives him relief from day to day living and having a sense of responsibility makes him feel good. He often discusses work with his dad as there is never a dull moment…
Images © Hayden Phipps