Donna Stephen

Pet parking peeve

2005-01-07 09:02

This is not going to be a discussion on the socio-economic issues we're dealing with in SA. My philanthropic and social conscience has been bruised one too many times by a single South African phenomenon: car guards.

I'd like to call them parking attendants, but that would imply a certain amount of attention being paid to said parking and parking spots.

Not that there's a shortage of attention on the empty parking spot, mind you. In our cities, you can hardly pull into an empty parking bay without a car guard trying to direct you into the back of the next car.

In certain areas there seems to be a density of one guard for every five cars. Then there are areas where you can't get out of your car without being accosted by at least two guards, "facing off" each other and trying to give you that "you had better give me more than five bucks for this" stare.

I understand completely the necessity for some kind of on-foot city watch, but in some countries that's what police foot-patrols do.

Admittedly our police are off harassing drivers of german luxury cars with broken indicators and five year-old Toyotas because they might be unroadworthy instead of catching rapists and house-burglars, so they're too busy to do this.

I'm not referring to the card-carrying guys in the luminous vests. I'm referring to the drunk bergie who won't let me get out of my car at the gym.

The guy who materialises at your window as you're struggling with your gear lock and makes sure that the 10cm he allows you to open your door, leads you directly to him.

And then the stare. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating. I'm not the kind of person who is easily intimidated, or invites such harassment, but gosh do they TRY!

I've tried for years now to temper the presence of these "unofficial" guards with the sad reality of our unemployment statistics.

It's an honest job, a joyless one and hardly pays enough to live on. I'm also very aware of inner-city crime statistics. Many areas have reported a drop in car break-ins once car guards are present.

I'm also not going to dredge up the attack on Japanese tourist Miki Matsuura, while hiking up Table Mountain, by an alleged car guard. For every one of these stories there are the opposite equivalent like Guard clings to bonnet for 40km (to prevent car thieves from getting away) or Car guard returns bag of cash.

All I really want is to pull into a parking spot I've found without being directed; or to park outside a building to drop/pick up something within five minutes, without feeling obligated to fork out R5 (sometimes on top of paying into the meter). I also don't want to be intimidated by opportunisticbergies every time I park outside the corner shop or the gym.

The groups I'm referring to are people who take advantage of the fact that we have legitimate car guards and take up any gap on the side of the road or deserted parking lot in the hope of making a few quick bucks.

I'm talking about the kind of "guard" that isn't anywhere to be found during the time you're away from your car, and materialises at the sound of your alarm deactivating.

I insist on treating all human beings with respect. I am never rude, dismissive or curt with them, so often my annoyance and internalised aggression with not being allowed back into my car because I gave the guard the only R3.60 I had on me, get taken out on my car door, my steering wheel, my shock absorbers and other parts of my car.

I suppose that I'm really tired of the implied attitude that just because I'm driving a car, I should have loads of money. Yes, it's spare change, you say. But like many people I spend most of my day in the city, and in and out of parking lots.

I easily spend R10-R15 per day on tipping car guards. That can easily amount to roughly R250-R300 per month. That's in addition to my car insurance and the bays/garage I rent on a monthly basis outside home and work.

Privatisation in this specific area is more fraught with bickering and corruption than government, believe it or not. Perhaps the solution is for this to be a government service, where these attendants get paid a salary.

What am I saying! That would be like getting more police on the streets - nice to have but highly unlikely.

If you have any bright ideas, contentious points or just rants, post a message oremail Donna

  • Donna Stephen is editor of and living proof that woman drivers aren't to be trifled with.

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