Are Car Guards Getting the Short or the Long of The Money?

Mar 07, 2016
Author: Ean Barnard

South Africa truly is a One-of-a-Kind country. Our sunny rainbow nation is full of quirky security measures - We’ve got burglar alarms, security guards, watchdogs, the odd ‘kettie’, and even car guards. Car guarding started as a survival strategy amid high levels of poverty and unemployment in South Africa. Over the last two decades, car guarding at shopping centres in South Africa has evolved from an informal service to an organised labour activity. It provides an opportunity for unemployed people to earn some form of income in the informal economy.

What’s the purpose of Car Guards?

Most of us often ask ourselves: “What purpose do they serve other than taking my money?” We hear you. You go to your local shopping centre and you start looking for a parking spot and a (mostly) friendly individual clothed in neon green shows you where you can park. He does a little car park dance with swinging arms and assists you to your parking spot. You wriggle out of your vehicle and he gives you a thumbs up stating that he’s going to watch your car while you’re away. That’s when we think: “What’s he going to do now? Simply look at it?” Well, that’s kind of true - He does nothing else, just looks at your car until your return. And when you do, he may not even remember which car is yours, but knows you will find it yourself. Once you have confirmed that your car is still there, and has not been lonely, you give him some small change to thank him for keeping your car company. It’s a service, a friendly gesture. Perhaps South Africans are just friendly like that.

Ever wondered how much Car Guards earn?

Car-guarding, in general, is perceived as a deterrent to vehicle-related crime. Whether you view this as a form of glorified begging or a necessity, car guards form part of the major informal economy in South Africa. The industry is split into two categories. One a completely informal system, where car guards are seemingly just everyday people off the streets, and the other a more formalised group, with uniforms and additional equipment.

In a Survey of 144 car guards in the Pretoria area in 2015 on what they earn on average, most indicated they earned between R51 and R100 a day, and some between R101 and R150 a day. While this might seem not bad at all, most car guards are required to pay a fee to agencies or managers of shopping centres to secure a spot. Additionally, if a car guard is working for an agency, they need to hire their own outfits and equipment, which ranges between R10 and R30 a day. So while car guards may be able to earn a living from car guarding – the additional costs can potentially pull earnings to well below minimum wage, or even leave some in debt.

So should we pay them?

Formal car guards? Yes, they are formally employed. More informal car guards? Well, you choose. There seems to be a growing sense of entitlement on your money even when you don't request this informal service. It has become slightly more than a no-brainer. In the wake of cases where the more informal car guards had become aggressive or even threatening to motorists due to entitlement, municipalities such as the City of Cape Town have introduced laws to formalise car guarding in the city. We’ve all had to face car guards that ramble on and on when not given a tip, but also those that are thankful for a mere handshake. In the end, we’d probably feel like there’s something missing in a country without car guards.

Fincheck believes it’s up to you to decide on supporting them. What we can advise you on though, is to make sure you’re keeping up with your loan repayments, so the next time we’re looking for a parking, it’s not you doing the parking lot dance!  

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