...Car Guards?

Always wanted to know what the deal is with these semi-uniformed guards on the street asking for parking money?

Whats the deal with... Car Guards?

The situation is all too familiar for one who resides in the rainbow nation. A late night spent at a friends house in the suburbs, maybe an evening of sushi in town with friends, you leave satisfied and ready for the drive home.

Then it comes.

The ensuing unconscious tightening of shoulders as the realization that you're not alone - that you've been spotted - begins to crawl up your spine.

That familiar beating of footsteps - you can feel the patter of steps almost before you hear it , beating faster and faster. You fumble with your keys as you struggle to open your car door, racing to get in before they can reach you. But deep down you know there's no escaping it - you resign yourself to your fate, and through the night rings out the all too familiar call:

''Baaaaaas, see your car fine, everything fine''

In South Africa and Cape Town especially, parking spaces are something of  a commodity. Finding a place to park you car that is close to your desired destination and protected, an even more rare situation. So this gap in the market was filled years ago by ''car guards'', more often than not these unofficial, self-appointed members of our society who for a couple of Rand point you in the direction of open parking spaces and watch over your car in your absence. 

Yes, we all want our cars to be protected and let's face it - here protection is offered at a relatively cheap price.  Yet for your average South African, a car guard seems to warrant irritation on a level normally reserved for politicians and telemarketers.  A lot of said irritation comes from the fact that South Africans generally believe these car guards are nothing more than glorified beggars. Too often we find ourselves trying to negotiate a particularly tricky spot, only to have our intense concentration completely broken by the man in the rear view mirror whistling, gesturing like an air traffic controller, and all together just getting in our way - or even upon our return being told - by a person whom we've never laid eyes on before - that our car has been looked after as promised, .

Which leads us to ask - are they truly providing a useful service?

Those you see wearing the yellow vests of their trades are often not official government employees - you can actually buy the vests at various accessible places, like the Cavendish trade stalls. Of course there are those actually employed by the municipality, such as the personalities on Long Street and those employed by stores such as Spar, but that's different, these ''car guards'' are being paid by the hour.

The unofficial majority however, are another story altogether. Had they decided not to don the yellow jacket (not however, by any means a necessity of the trade) they might easily have joined those at the traffic lights begging for change - instead  they and their cohorts watch over your car, pleading for change.  I personally like their happy smiley faces as they ask for any spare coins I might have.

While I know of various situations in which a spurned car guard has ''keyed'' a car in retaliation for rudeness in an almost microcosmic form of the insurance offered by American Mafioso's, this is all too easily avoided.  Politeness and even friendliness costs one nothing after all. Often have I found myself without spare change, not even a one rand coin, but I have yet to find a car guard who takes offense at this. A promise of some payment on the next occasion, perhaps a cigarette if you happen to have one or most importantly, acknowledgement of their existence, is all they require of you.

I have encountered car guards in wheelchairs, emaciated old women with walking sticks and children as young as six wearing the yellow vests of these sentinels of automobiles. Some are all too obviously incapable of dealing with any possible threats to your car, but it's a pretty good bet that - no matter that they cannot point out which is your car - their presence in the general area is often more than enough to deter any danger.

By John Scharges

CapeTownMagazine.com walks around the Mother City and and we encounter things and people that make us wonder...what's the deal with that? In this section we investigate that crucial core question.

What is it in Cape Town that puzzles you? Tell us and we'll investigate it for you... send us your enigma or your answers to writer@capetownmagazine.com


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