Car Guard Rant!

Before I start, for those of you who follow me who are not from South Africa or Zimbabwe, or any Southern African country, let me explain to you what a ‘Car Guard’ is. It is basically someone who guards your car while you are away from it whilst out and about in town.

As I understand it, the unwritten contract between car owner and car guard means that if you (the car owner) park your vehicle in the Car Guard’s ‘zone’ and you acknowledge the Car Guard with a hello, a nod, a gesture of any kind, you thereby entrust the security of your vehicle to this person.

His/her responsibility is to ensure that your vehicle is not stolen, broken into, or damaged in any way shape or form. They are also required to help with the loading of your car if you consent (usually outside supermarkets etc), and to assist you in reversing your car to avoid a collision (despite the fact that you surely passed your driving test in order to be driving your vehicle), it’s part of the ‘deal’.

The way in which he/she defines their ‘zone’ is by finding an area that has not previously been claimed by someone else, and it is now their zone. A ‘zone’ can be claimed in a car park, or indeed any open ground where you may decide to park your car. There are no defined lines, or controlled access zones. If he says it is his, it must be so! Don’t be fooled into thinking that they are only in town either, because if you were to attend a function in the middle of the Kalahari desert, or the bush on private property, there would indeed be Car Guards there. For example, we have them in the following locations in our tiny little town:

  • outside the hospital in the overflow carpark;
  • outside the mall despite there being private security guards as well;
  • outside the nursery (but only on weekends);
  • outside the vet rooms which is in a house in a private residential area;
  • outside the local family restaurant;
  • everywhere!

Some Car Guards organise themselves into a team of sorts where they agree with each other which parking spaces are their’s, and even coordinate their high-visibility vests and cover for each other if one has to step-away for a few minutes. Others are rogue sole traders or opportunists.

The role of a Car Guard is usually filled by someone who is, unfortunately, unemployed. I admire them for going out and making money, but I will delve into this more shortly. The role is filled by men or women, black or white, physically able or disabled. There is no discriminating. Anyone can be a Car Guard, you just have to find your ‘zone’.

When you are finished and intend to drive away in YOUR car, you are required to pay the Car Guard for his/her services. In Zimbabwe it’s generally $1. In South Africa it is whatever you think is fair, no less than R3, but usually $5 is expected. If you are very wealthy and generous and your expensive car is in a very affluent area, maybe R10.

Moving on to my rant: I had many chores to attend to in town this morning. Lawyers office, bank, supermarket, mall, sewing shop, bakery. That is six different places where I stopped my car. At R5.00 each car guard, I am down R30. In two of these places I wasn’t even away from my car for 5 minutes. In one of them it was in an access controlled area, and in four of these places I did not even spend any money except to pay the Car Guard.

I know that I am very privileged compared to these people. I know that. Like I said I admire them for having the initiative to make money for them and their families. I am grateful that they are watching my car to make sure it is not stolen or broken into, (nevermind that I pay a monthly fee to a professional tracking company, my car has an alarm and I double check that is it locked every time I leave it.)

The lady who watches my car outside Pick’nPay is named Anna. She knows my children’s names, they know her, she helps me load my groceries in the car, and because I have a good relationship with her I usually park in her zone and I will always pay her.

On the other hand, the man outside the bank is a rude, arrogant, painful person. He appears at my window before I have even turned my engine off. After the obligatory ‘nod’ cementing the agreement he disappears until I emerge from the bank. He then follows me to my car (so clearly he wasn’t near enough to it to deter any possible crimes against it), he then proceeds to stand at my car window until I have paid him, and then disappears off again. I am then left feeling very harassed, and pissed off, and he hasn’t even ‘helped’ me to reverse in the one and only place in town where a little help would be useful.

What really pissed me off today was when I was leaving the last place on my list and I realised I did not have any silver coins left, only  50c coppers. I dutifully counted out R5 in coppers to ensure I was not short-changing the guy who randomly decided to guard that particular area today, and when I handed it to him he had a look of horror and then disgust on his face when he realised I’d handed him a load of coppers.

To list my grievances today:

  1. Why do I HAVE to pay someone to protect my car from possible thieves.
  2. Why do I feel I HAVE to pay someone every.single.time, even if I can see my car from where I might be sitting (i.e. the outdoor area at the restaurant).
  3. Why do I have to select my car parking space based on the Car Guard – what if I want to park elsewhere.
  4. If the car guard costs more than what I buy (R4 of buttons plus R5 for Car Guard) is it justified?
  5. If he doesn’t assist me in reversing, should I even pay him?

Days like today I would much rather take that R30 and donate it to a charity such as the SPCA, but then I am depriving 6 individuals of R5 each, money my husband works very hard to earn.

I fully expect to get crucified at the alter of Social Media, after posting this post. I know I’m priviliged. I know they are unemployed, but is that my fault? Should I feel obliged/guilted into giving away money my husband earns because this other person is unemployed, even though I know he is trying his best? I know that they are doing an honest ‘job’. I know all of this, but I am still entitled to be a bit miffed at the whole situation.

And I do think that this whole situation has become so normal in South Africa we don’t even question it anymore. We should.

I’m going to sign off this rant right there, before I get all political and start pointing fingers at corrupt governments who aren’t providing jobs for their people, or who probably can’t even count our R5 in 50c coins (Zuma). If you don’t get that joke, please watch this video: Listen Properly. and for insight into the bigger picture, here’s a link to Trevor Noah on the Daily Show where he not only references the previous clip, but highlights the extent of the personal expenditure of the president (which he stole!) and then you can refer back to my rant! R5 for a Car Guard vs $15million theft to renovate his private residence!

For those of you in SA, how much do you tip your car guard?


  1. Author

    That would piss me off too ?
    I did enjoy the help I got from the car guards when I was there but for all the errands I run in a day I would be going on broke too, especially if only somewhere for 5mins and you feel you have to pay them ? And I never have change ?

    1. Author

      It’s ridiculous! Honestly. It’s basically a forced donation!

  2. Author

    Oh this was an Awesome read! So insightful. I’m living vicariously through you and yes… quite the experience. Hmmm… To pay or not to pay… I’m not sure how I’d handle this situation…I’m sure in time I’ll get to figure it out. Hugs, Maria (Carlsbad, CA, USA)

  3. Author

    Hmmm.. Ok… First.
    No… They are NOT ‘Unemployed’ at all. They are making money by being a Car guard. Ok… It may not be much but it’s cash. Are they paying taxes on that income? Your husband pays taxes on his income I bet. I know I do and my wife does (Ok, we are in the UK but you get the idea).
    Lets not mess around here. This seems more like extortion than anything else. What would happen if you DIDN’T pay these people? Would your car get smashed by some ‘mysterious people’? Hmmm… Let me scratch my chin in perplexity. Not. >.>

    Why not have a word with the store or a local business could get together and make a PROPER car park… They could employ staff to guard your car in their secure car park. That way you can understand that the system WOULD work. The company made a site specific for you and they employ staff. You pay a fixed amount for the length of your stay. No extortion and the government gets tax revenue.

    Is crime really that bad over there?
    Is there no way to avoid those places?

  4. Author

    I usually only tip the car guard if they have been helpful e.g.. with loading my groceries or helping me to park or leave. I don’t tip if I have done all these things myself. I don’t believe the car guard is really ‘protecting’ my car from crime. Is he/she going to risk personal harm if they are someone breaking into my car? I think not. Also, I doubt they even know who belongs to which car with the high turnover at the malls etc. I could be the one stealing the car for all they know. It just works out too expensive to be that generous these days especially if you are making a few stops a day. It sounds callous but I cant afford to part with R5 every single time I park my car somewhere. It’s too expensive.

    1. Author

      Glad to hear it. I thought it was just me. Most of them really don’t deserve to be tipped! Thanks for reading. X

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  6. Author

    Omg I experience this too, I live on the West Rand and I normally would tip a r2 or r5 and for my favorite car guards i would give them something else too like a coke or crisp. But in Johannesburg i experienced the most rude and arrogant car guard I have ever met, just coz I wouldn’t tip… I didn’t have change on me and felt bad… The worst

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