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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


STEYN, Francois. Fleeing to exploitation: The case of immigrants who work as car guards. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.4-2, pp.925-939. ISSN 2224-7912.

Car guards form an integral part of South Africa's urban landscape. The phenomenon has its roots in the dual realities of unemployment and crime in the country, in particular vehicle-related offences. Car guarding commenced in Durban in the early 1990s when unemployed persons started looking after the vehicles of drivers in exchange for a donation, and the practice soon burgeoned across the country. Drivers are, however, not obliged to pay car guards for the services they provide since the practice of tipping often depends on internalised attitudes towards tipping and to reward good quality service. A distinction is made between formal and informal car guards, where the latter provide car guard services on public streets, mostly in inner city areas, and the former offer their services at the parking areas of shopping centres outside the central business district. Car guards are required to have undergone the necessary training and registration with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority of South Africa and some local authorities have introduced bylaws to regulate the car guarding industry. Furthermore, media reports suggest that formal car guards have to pay a daily fee to the managers/owners of shopping centres simply to offer their services to drivers. These matters prompted research into the car guard phenomenon in Pretoria and an article was published about the implications of the survey for private security policy and practice. The current contribution entails a closer analysis of the data with the aim of differentiating the experiences of immigrants from those of South Africans who work as car guards in the capital city. In the absence of a sampling framework, 144 car guards were interviewed using purposive and snowball sampling techniques. Ninety were immigrants and 54 were local citizens. Owing to the sampling strategy used, and because the data did not show a normal distribution, significant differences between the two groups were identified by means of the Mann-Whitney U test for which effect sizes were calculated. Immigrants who worked as car guards were significantly younger, had higher levels of education, were more likely to be the breadwinners of their families and they had fewer children compared to their South African counterparts. They were also more likely to have been unemployed in the past and they were less likely to blame the political environment for their situation. They received compensation for their services less frequently and were significantly more often subjected to verbal abuse by clients. Interestingly, immigrants who work as car guards were less likely to consider their work as important in preventing crime and they presented significantly lower levels of knowledge of labour laws and municipal bylaws regarding the car guard industry. Despite these significant differences, immigrants who work as car guards were equally subjected to financial exploitation by having to pay a daily fee for the parking areas where they worked. The exploitation even extended to some car guards having to pay for the identifying clothing they wore every day. Roughly a third of the car guards' monthly income was paid to the owners or managers of shopping centres, and sometimes car guards could not secure sufficient funds to pay for the daily fee to "rent" parking bays. Most of the car guards reported that they were merely surviving from day to day, and the industry was providing extremely limited prospects of promotion. In fact, many car guards did not have a written contract securing their employment, thus exacerbating their vulnerability and potential for exploitation in the informal economy. In addition, the undocumented status of immigrants who worked as car guards made it difficult for them to complete the necessary training and to register officially with the regulatory authority. While having left their countries of origin owing to political and economic turmoil, illegal immigrants who end up working as car guards might well unknowingly be fleeing to exploitation in South Africa.

Keywords : Immigrants; illegal immigration; car guards; informal economy; financial exploitation; survival; unemployment; poverty.

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