GEORGE NEWS - The overwhelming majority of George residents who participated in a recent poll about car guards, want this problematic sector formalised.
George Herald, with the support of the citizens' initiative We Are George and the George Business Chamber, conducted a survey in April regarding the impact of the current informal car guards on safety and business in the George CBD.
The survey was done through SurveyMonkey via George Herald Facebook, where the outcome and complete results of the survey can be viewed.
From the answers of the 378 participants, it is clear that undisciplined elements among the car guards have a negative impact on the CBD and that people want more control.
In recent years the local car guard sector has grown into a lucrative, albeit unruly, free-for-all industry, as motorists dish out thousands of rand each day to these self-appointed guardians of parking bays.
Many business managers and owners, as well as motorists and other visitors to the George CBD, have been complaining for years, but to date nothing has been done.
Asked if they feel safe parking in the CBD, 71,43% of respondents said no.
The answers of the 270 people who explained why they feel unsafe include: "Have been robbed; Drunk car guards; Guards scratch your car if you don't tip; Swearing; So-called car guards are really just there to beg - they won't fight off thieves on your behalf and thus risk their own life, especially if a perspective of life is cheap is borne in mind."
More than 77% of respondents said they had been harassed by a car guard, but only 6,29% had reported the incidents to the police as they feel that nothing would come of it.
Nearly 95% of respondents believe that the informal car guards pose a risk to their personal safety as well as to their cars. Most did not realise that it is illegal to be a car guard unless registered with Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority, better known as Psira.
Almost 90% wants the car guard industry formalised and managed privately to ensure better control in public parking areas.
Trying to make a living
The less than 5% of the respondents who spoke out on behalf of the car guards, said they are just poor people trying to make a living. One comment reads: "I am a single female, been in George for two years, I have never been harassed by any car guard, formal or informal, these are guys that deserve better.
They do the most unthankful job, take constant abuse, yet are always ready with a smile for the next car owner..."
However, this and a few other comments drown in the multitude of pleas that the guards either "go away" or be formalised.
Business losing out
A CBD business owner sums it up as follows: "As a business owner, we've been dealing with this issue for years. A lot of our clients are elderly, and do not come to our store anymore.
Many of the guards on Market Street are often high on some drug, and make many passers-by uncomfortable with their behaviour. I do not agree with formalising all the illegal car-guards, for the simple purpose that many of them do not want to be controlled or regulated. They are no different to beggars looking for a fix. They just pretend to be working for it..."
Car guards not illegal
In reaction to the results of the survey, George Municipality Communications Manager, Chantel Edwards-Klose, said car guards are not illegal in terms of the current municipal by-laws.
"Individuals performing these functions are doing so of own accord and are not recognised as car guards. Under the public nuisance by-laws, an individual who continues to beg from a person or closely follows a person, after such person has given a negative response to such begging, is considered a by-law infringement and could be fined. In this regard the complainant must be willing to give a statement and be prepared to testify in court."
She asked the public to report harassment and threats made by any of the self-employed so-called car guards directly to the police and that criminal charges be laid against the offender.
"All complaints will be dealt with accordingly, and George Traffic and Law Enforcement remain committed to the enforcement of municipal by-laws. A report will go to council regarding the issue at hand shortly."
Mikaila Hendrikz of We Are George confirmed that numerous meetings with law enforcement and George municipal officials have taken place.
"While senior officials of Law Enforcement and Traffic who attended our [latest] meeting are committed to assisting us with the illegal car guard issue, the instruction and direction needs to come from higher up in order for change to happen. History has shown us that what is currently in place is not going to improve anything."
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