Where there is open and public parking, there is a car guard. They are everywhere. Whether you see them as a necessity or a nuisance, car guards are a major part in your car’s security while you run your errands or whilst you are in your office. Car guarding has been born to the settlements and cities due to the high unemployment rates and high income disparity.
As petty as it may sound, car parking has become a commodity. Finding a secure place to park your car close to your desired destination has become a distant luxury for many. So this gap in the market was filled years ago by the ‘car safety officers.’
Namibians generally believe that car guards are nothing but glorified beggars. Too often car owners find themselves trying to negotiate a particularly tricky spot, only to be distracted by the man in the rear view mirror whistling, gesturing like a traffic controller, and all together just getting in their way – or even upon your return being told – by a person whom you have never laid eyes on before that your car has been looked after as promised.
The life of car guards has been painted with an irritating brush which has caused many to have the wrong perceptions of these humble citizens on the streets trying to make a living for themselves and their families. Their job is as simple as it is to the eye and at the same time key to safety of unattended vehicles. As much as this service may be overlooked, it becomes a necessity when things go wrong.
“Our job is simple and it goes both ways. You help me and I help you, in return we both need each other,” said Sisco Ngipangelwa who has been car guard for the last 15 years. Sisco has three children in her care whom she supports from the meagre income she gets from the streets.
“Unlike other jobs that guarantee a fixed salary at the end of the month, car guarding has its good and bad days. The income is never fixed as some days one can make more and on another only a few dollars,” she said.
Sisco, as one of the few women in a male dominated workforce, has to endure the hot sun all day long waiting for the few Samaritans that have the decency to give her money for guarding their vehicle.
Besides the sun, the day itself comes with its negatives. This include rude clients and those who have a habit of wanting to be on the wrong side of the law.
With the little coins they get, car guards make sure the agreed client’s car is safe.
“It cannot be that you leave us with your car and find it find it broken into. We are committed to keeping your car safe against all odds,” she said.
However, Sisco makes mention of rude clients who park their cars and totally ignore their services. “Sometimes a person parks their car. You ask them if they would want you to look after their car and all they tell you is that their car has an alarm system. They get back and find their car either bumped or broken into – then they want to ask me what had happened, knowing very well they declined my offer,” narrated Sisco.
“Sometimes you ask the drivers kindly and they either ignore you or respond by insulting you and everything alive in your family. We do not force our services on people and thus we fail to understand the rude treatment,” she added.
On top of the unpleasant weather they have to endure, Sisco says it is only a few who totally understand that they too are human beings with families and need to make a living.
“You find that someone would go for an entire day and when they get back, they only give you N$1. I understand that we have to appreciate the little we get but what would I really use N$1 for? It is really a struggle,” she said.
Sisco urges car owners to respect car guards and understand that all they want is to make a little money to feed their families. “Unlike other jobs that have medical aid and other benefits, our security is highly dependent on the few coins we get from the few Samaritans,” said Sisco.
Guarding cars in the central business district of Windhoek is more than just eye on the car as car guards also have to play police when situations get out of hand. The busy city is home to thieves too, who in the nature of their work, just wait for a sleeping eye to pounce.
“Just the presence of a car guard makes the thief think twice before breaking into a car. However, sometimes these guys come in numbers to break into a car. They take out knives and we put our lives at risk to defend the car or sometimes watch defenselessly.”
Sisco said that there are currently a number of crooks with car jammers who make it difficult for car guards to guard cars. Over the years criminals have been using jammers to block remote locking car keys. What happens is that once a driver walks away from his car only to press their remote a few feet away, a thief sitting nearby would stops intercept the connection and strike when the owner of the vehicle is out of sight.
“It is very difficult for us because the thief walks confidently to the car and opens it without breaking into it. It is difficult to detect that it is a thief is there is no force in the process because for all you know the owner of the car might have sent someone to his car to get something, so it is difficult.
Love them or hate them, car guards play a significant role in the lives of car owners. While they may be perceived as a nuisance, Sisco laments that it is a reciprocal relationship. “Make no mistake, if we (car guards) decide to stay home one day, car owners will cry and really feel our worth,” she concluded passionately.