Saturday, July 28, 2007
The Car Guard
Roughly 10 to 12 years ago, a new phenomenon appeared in shopping mall car parks and on the streets of South Africa – it was the birth of the Car Guard. I find it fascinating, how this new industry grew, seemingly out of nowhere. Basically how it happened is that the high level of unemployment in the country, coupled with a huge increase in crime, particularly motor vehicle theft, resulted in unemployed people offering to keep watch over motorists’ cars, in exchange for a donation.
At first this informal industry was largely unregulated – basically anyone could arrive, declare a particular area his/hers and become the car guard in that area on that day. In general this remains true in municipal areas and on the streets, although many car guards have “their” designated areas and other guards respect that.
Over time, particularly in shopping malls, organisations developed and only car guards belonging to that particular group are allowed to guard in that area. Many shopping centres enter into contracts with a particular organisation and the organisation then provides car guards to that mall. The car guards pay a fee to belong to the organization and to wear the ID card and “uniform” of that organisation. They are not paid a wage, but rely on the donations (or tips) that they are given by the public for the service that they provide.
There are many people who find car guards an irritation and are quite insulting about their presence. Personally, I don’t have a problem with them at all. The car guards that I have dealings with are, in general, very friendly, they sometimes help to unpack my groceries into my car and always offer to take my shopping trolley away and guide me out of my parking space. Many of them are incredibly kind and helpful to the elderly and disabled people that they have dealings with. Quite honestly, I feel much more secure in the parking lot, especially at night, knowing that they are there keeping an eye on things.
I have often heard it said that these people are earning large sums of money for doing very little. In fact, that’s not true. In a study conducted in Bloemfontein, it was established that car guards earn on average R52 (formal sector) and R32 (informal sector) per day. Bearing in mind that they often work in appalling weather conditions, for long hours, that does not seem like a huge wage.
Interestingly enough, the study conducted in Bloemfontein established that out of 88 car guards in the formal sector who were interviewed, 4 had tertiary education, 10 had completed their high school education and 46 had passed the 10th grade.
I think it is brilliant that these people, who would otherwise be unemployed, are now earning a living and providing for their dependents. They aren’t just sitting back accepting charity and feeling sorry for themselves, or resorting to crime - they are being proactive and working at getting themselves out of their unfortunate circumstances. In many cases, car guarding has given them their self-respect back. It is also sometimes a stepping stone to better things. I know of two car guards at the mall where I do my shopping, who are now working at shops inside the mall.
There are of course always going to be “bad eggs” - much has been made of car guards who steal while putting your groceries in your boot for you etc etc. But that’s life, unfortunately, no matter what line or work you’re in there are going to be those who give the rest a bad name.
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Photo by jhm
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