Car Guards

Michael Robin Wynne aka Batman in Grahamstown runs a soup kitchen and an incredibly inspiring blog where he shares stories from the Eastern Cape town.


He recently spent time with the Car Guards of Grahamstown and his story is one that all South Africans can learn from. Read the full facebook post below:

There’s been a lot of talk about car guards attacking people in Grahamstown. Some people say that they have no issues with the guards while others complain about threats, violence and damage to their cars.

I spent 3 hours with a few of them yesterday and I think it’s important for people to know what really goes on.

The car guards identify themselves by the type of work that they do, the street they work in and time that they work. During the day until about 1pm you will find the “First Shifters” working High and New Street. Then the night shifters take over. This is not negotiable and anyone who works beyond their assigned time is dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

The guys working in high Street, closest to the university, wash cars and the rest of them guard cars. Both streets are divided into 3 sections and are seen as territories.

All of them start their day at the soup kitchen.

I have never heard them complain that they don’t get enough food and they are always very polite. Once they are finished eating they walk to their streets together and their “office hours” begin. Yes, they actually call it that.

They knew why I was there and greeted me with big smiles, a few fist bumps and that strange 3way handshake that everybody does in Grahamstown. I keep fumbling that handshake because I never get the sequence right. They made me practice it for about 5 minutes before they were willing to chat and laughed hysterically each time that I got it wrong.

While this was going down I noticed a few of them cleaning rubbish off the streets and when asked about it they said that they like a clean office. They even clean donkey droppings and cowpats.

They told me the basics. They get paid between R2 and R5 per car. Sometimes the owner of the cars will bring them food and sometimes they make nothing at all.

If the owner of the car says that they won’t be long then they know they won’t make any money. They know not to expect money from people who ignore them when they offer to watch their car. They know the regulars and what to expect from them. The golden rule is to always be polite.

They make between R30 and R50 a day and the majority of the money comes from students.

It took a while before they felt comfortable enough to really talk to me but once they started I couldn’t write fast enough and eventually I had to put my pen down and just listen.

They all had horror stories about being beaten, blamed for crimes they didn’t commit and being verbally abused.

I have learned from watching people to look for ‘tells’ so I know when someone is lying to me. These guys were not lying. In fact, when I asked about the prison tattoos on some of them, they were open and honest about the crimes they committed and how they feared going back to prison.

When I asked about prison life they went silent and looked at each other to see who would talk first. I thought I’d lost them at that point because no one wanted to talk so I told them that I wouldn’t write about it.

They relaxed and I was bombarded with stories of rape, beatings, gang behavior and incredible fear and when they were done I had to take a moment to deal with what I had just heard. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.

It would surprise me if any of them committed another crime. What they went through was horrendous and I am blown away that they have the strength of character to put it behind them.

If washing and guarding cars is all they have then they will do it as best they can and never complain about it because it keeps them from having to live a life of crime in order to survive.

I had been there for about an hour and a half and was feeling thirsty because it was really hot outside. This inspired the next lot of questions.

It turns out that the shop owners in that area are more than happy to not only give them water when they need it but also keep their buckets, soap and cloths for them. They even get food every now and then, which they share.

I must say that I was rather touched by the fellowship between them.

Eventually I had to ask about the crime and the accusations made against them. One of them looked really angry and reminded me of the shifts. Day shift and night shift and everything fell into place.

The day shift and night shift have nothing to do with each other.

The night shifters usually work in New Street because that’s where the clubs and bars are. Most of them either carry knives and screwdrivers or hide them in the broken electrical boxes. Side note, they also hide drugs which they sell to students, in those boxes. It’s mostly weed but every now and then, especially in summer, they will also hide drugs like crystal meth and mandrax as well.

I am told that most of them are high when they get there and continue taking drugs throughout the night and that the later it gets, the more dangerous they become. They also said that not all of the night shifters are dodgy and that some of them are just there to watch cars.

So there you have it. The good guys and the bad guys.

Do I believe everything they told me? I’m not too sure just yet. I think it’s a little more complex than that and I should spend some time in New Street at night to see for myself how things really work but I can say in all honesty that the day shifters are, for the most part, really nice guys and that I will make an effort to help them where I can. I’m also considering becoming a real friend to a few of them because I think I can learn a lot from them.

All they ask is that they be acknowledged when they ask if they can look after your car, that you actually pay them next time when you say, “I don’t have change… next time”, and that you treat their business as you would any other.

PS, winter is around the corner and these guys get really cold. If you can afford it, buy some gloves and jackets from Pep Stores and give it to them. These guys have it rough and NEVER complain and if you can’t give them anything, make a point of remembering their names and every now and then ask them how their day is going.

They are a part of our community and should be treated with as much dignity and respect as you would give to anyone else.

Sources: Facebook
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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

1 comment

  1. I worked as a car guard for 2,5yrs in Potchefstroom (another University town). I learned a lot during that time.

    1) Firstly I learned that there are legal and illegal guards. The legal guards have done training and gained a security “E” grade certificate and are registered at a monthly fee with Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA). You can tell if they are registered as they wear (or should) a name tag with their photo and registration number. If they do not have one visible, you are within your rights to ask to see one.
    Most of these work for security companies who are contracted to shopping malls or have permits/arrangements with the town council and SAPC to work certain streets or areas.
    (As a side note, security companies can be fined if they employ untrained/registered staff).
    While there are a lot of very good, honest car guards who work without this training and registration, they run the risk of being fined or even imprisoned for doing this. The smaller shopping areas (like some Spar/Boxer /Woollies or Food franchizes) or blocks sometimes ‘allow’ these guards to ‘work the parking area/work the strip’ for a daily/shift fee of R20-R50. This has to be paid up front before the shift starts.
    There are, unfortunately, also of your ‘chancers’ and ‘skollies’ who pretend to be car guards to cover their real business of selling drugs or casing cars for theft etc.

    2) No one is obliged to accept your services or pay you, so service and friendliness are key to how much you earn. The area you service is also relevant. Business people pay the most, while shoppers vary depending on their own finances and the time of month. Students are more regular, but do not have a lot of cash so usually tip small. Foreigners are not used to the practice of tipping, so they either do not tip or ‘over tip’.
    There is a prevalent mindset (mostly due to ignorence or bigotry) that car guards are begging. NO! They are no more begging than your waitron at a restaurant and they do not get a basic salary so their tips are their income. In my time as a car guard, I have been asked if I was too lazy or ‘slapgat’ to find a ‘real’ job, I have been sworn at, cursed and accused of theft and malingering, I have been accused of being a whore mascerading as a car guard and I have had a few small coins disdainfully thrown on the ground in the general direction of my feet for me to pick up. I have ‘generously been offered the half eaten pie or partially drunk cold drink they did not finish before arriving at their car. Then sworn at if I refused it. I have been ignored and almost run over.

    3) The car guards powers with regard to arrests etc are limited by security laws to citizens arrest and they may only hold a thief/vandle or similar while awaiting the arrival of the police. They may carry batons, sambok, or Whips,but. Hese are purely for self defence and minimal force must be used at all times in preventing crimes or making an arrest.

    4) The biggest contribution a car guard makes, is their presence and vigilence as felons prefer easy targets, with less chance of being identified/caught. The trained guards are also taught to be observant and be able to give a desciption of the incident and perpetrator. This works in much the same way as visible policing. So whether you acknowledge them or not, whether you pay them or not, your car is probably safer just because they are there.

    5) A car guard is expected to be available and on duty in all weather and is often not paid if they are undercover during a rain storm despite the fact that they are still able to see and protect the car. The same applies if the sun is burning down on a blistering hot day.

    6) A simple greeting and acknowledgement of their request to watch your car goes a long way to validating them as a person. And by the way ‘I won’t be long’ means little or nothing except that you will not pay. A thief can access your vehicleon less than 30 seconds!

    And just for reference purposes and clariy, I am a white retired female and this was less than 6 years ago.

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