Desperate guardians

2008-09-18 00:00

Car guards have become an accepted part of the city scenery but they remain largely unregulated, despite existing legislation that dictates they must be registered as security service providers with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira) and have completed a Grade E security officer training course.

However, speaking to car guards and to their employers it seems that the authorities are turning a blind eye with regard to their activities. Car guards are perceived as being people desperate to work and therefore the authorities are reluctant to come down hard on them.

Several years ago car guarding was formalised in the city with the creation of PMB Car Guards which was operated by Business Against Crime (BAC). However, when BAC was succeeded by Business Fighting Crime (BFC) this initiative was discontinued and since then car guards have appeared all over the city.

Currently, car guards appear to be either totally unregulated or administered via security companies. For example, the car guards at Cascades are run by Vimbela Security which runs a number of car-guard operations around the country, while the Durban-based security company Axesscor runs the car-guard operations at Scottsville and Hayfields. Car guards at Mayor’s Walk, Fruit and Veg City and Makro are run by Crime Stop Security Services.

“Car guards are usually people in dire straits,” says Johnny Weltz, Crime Stop Security Services area manager. He said the guards they employ are charged a daily fee of between R5 to R25 depending on the location. “They can earn R100 to R250 per day depending on where they work. They have to be Psira registered and they do a week’s course to get E-grade registered.

“Not one person I employ earns less than R2 000 per month,” he says, “and some up to R8 000 to R10 000.”

Weltz says that the guards are not issued with uniforms. “We have lost too many. We try to make it cheap for them. They must have a white shirt and black pants and look neat.”

Dave Pusey of Vimbela Security is contracted to Cascades and in turn sub-contracts to the car guards. He says they have attended the Grade E security officer training course and can produce cards if requested. “They are charged an average of R15 per day. Whatever they get after that R15, they keep. The amount they earn differs according to their location. If they are close to the centre entrance they will earn more.”

What exactly are a car guard’s duties? “They are mainly a deterrent,” says Pusey. “They are the eyes and ears of the centre security and will pass on information if they see anything suspicious going on.

“They are ambassadors for the centre. They greet customers, help off-load trolleys and take the trolleys to collection points. They are not traffic officers. They assist where they can, but ultimately the car remains the responsibility of the driver.”

Weltz has instructed his guards to contact him if anything happens and he will advise them on what to do. “We work with the centre security.”

If a car guard is injured on duty he or she is liable for the costs of medical attention. “They sign a form which states they mustn’t stand behind cars and that they mustn’t get involved in arguments with customers. The problem is that because they don’t earn a fixed salary they can’t claim unemployment,” says Weltz.

Pusey says that because he sub-contracts to the car guards, any medical expenses are for their account should they get injured on duty.

According to Pusey working hours tend to be dictated by the anchor tenant of a shopping complex. “So it’s usually an eight to five day, but some centres have restaurants and cinemas. I don’t encourage my car guards to go beyond that, then an evening shift comes on. At Cascades we have 17 people in two teams — it all depends on how busy it is. It’s pointless having someone in an area where no cars are parked, but we have an average of eight guards operating seven days a week.”

While the situation at shopping complexes appears to be under some form of control, the streets of the city are another matter. In the document “Proposed Car Guard Control Mechanism for Pietermaritzburg” produced by BFC, it is pointed out that “in some cases individual [people] appoint themselves as car guards independently from any form of organisation or business”.

Dem Lambouris from BFC says that while they appreciate that people working as car guards are doing something to earn a living they should be regulated, co-ordinated and provided with proper guidelines.

BFC has put forward a proposal which has been discussed with role players including the SAPS Pietermaritzburg station and the central Community Police Forum. “However, the municipal input is the critical element that will enable the matter to be progressed,” says Lambouris. “We are now waiting for the municipality in conjunction with its legal department to respond.”

‘Professional-turned pauper’ and other car-guard stories

These are the voices of car guards, male and female, black and white, working at various locations in Pietermaritzburg.

• Do I get tired standing all day? Of course I do, I am a human being.

• On average I get R2 from each motorist. Indians and whites are more generous. When Zulus find that I am not from here, they don’t give me anything. Mostly people treat you okay but if people give you stick you just have to bite your tongue and not talk back.

• I have been living in South Africa for 10 years working as a car guard and security guard. On a good day, I earn R100 but on average it’s around R70. Out of that I pay R20 per day to the manager, R30 on a Friday and Saturday. This money is collected daily by one of the car guards. On Sunday, I work from 2 pm to 10 pm. Every other day from 3 pm to 10 pm. I guard cars and help customers with their trolleys.

• I have a contract and a Grade E security qualification. I also have a university degree in literature. I used to be a high school teacher. In my home country, in 1996, rebels ambushed my wife and my three children at home while I was away working. They raped my wife, then they killed her and the children.

• I used to be a salesman with the Farm & City chain in Zimbabwe. I came down to South Africa a few months back and I’ve been car guarding for three months now. There’s nothing else to do. I do it so I can avoid a life of crime. If I left this job tomorrow, it would be fine. No obligations on either side. There’s no contract.

• I help customers, watch for thieves and help with packages. I’ve never yet encountered a thief.

• I pay R8 per day to look after two rows of cars. I also have to pay for my uniform. The jacket costs R140. There’s also a hat to buy, skirt and shirt. I live in Dambuza and pay R24 per day in taxi fare. I have two children and a number of adult dependents as well. On a good day, like Saturday, I will make R100. On weekdays I’m lucky to get half of that. I’ve been working as a car guard since 1997 and can’t get another job, although I have security guard training.

• People are different, you have to deal with them all.

• Some people are terrible. They shout at me when I try to help them with their trolleys. I have only witnessed one attempted theft of a car, but the thief ran away.

• I have three children and have been car guarding in this street for a year now. A bad day means R60, a good day R120.

• I make on average R30 to R40, reaching R80 on a very good day.

• I’m from Zimbabwe where I was a teacher. Shortly after starting car guarding I was involved in an accident. As I was trying to help an elderly customer from the parking bay, another customer accidentally hit me from behind. My whole body turned through a 180-degree angle and then his bakkie’s front left wheel drove over my left foot. The customer rushed me to hospital. Most of the health professional staff were on strike so the customer bought me medication from private pharmacies. I was out of work for two months. I finally managed to get a teaching job.

• I never came in contact with my employers. The only person I was in contact with was the site manager. Some managers would be kind and helpful, while others would be very bossy and arrogant. I never signed a contract nor did I receive any training. Every day, I would pay R25 to the manager. My gross takings ranged from R40 to R120 per day. Once a customer left her car keys in the ignition and I took a lot of time and care guarding the car. When she returned and realised the mistake she gave me a R100, a lot of money from a single customer. I worked 12 hours a day, from 7 am to 7 pm.

• Being a car guard taught me two good lessons. Firstly, that poor economic policies by politicians can reduce professional members of society to paupers overnight. And secondly, life is not a bed of roses.

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