Informal car guards raise residents’ ire

With water restrictions, some people are upset about car guards using water to wash cars in the parking lot.

Sandwiched between the ocean and lagoon and home to the iconic wooden bridge and lighthouse, Woodbridge Island is popular with both locals and tourists, but in recent months the scenic backdrop has been marred by accusations of harassment levelled at car guards.

Tabletalk visited the Woodbridge Island parking lot used by visitors to the beach, the Milnerton lifesavers’ clubhouse, the golf club and a restaurant.

On arrival, Tabletalk witnessed a row between a car guard and a motorist.

A few unsavoury words were said to the motorist who then drove off leaving the car guard fuming. He said the driver had neglected to pay him for washing the car.

Another car guard, who did not want to named, said he had been earning an honest living in the parking lot for many years.

He was nine when his mother died and he ended up sleeping on the stoep of the Milnerton lifesaving club with his brothers.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 13. We don’t intimidate anyone. We treat them gently. It’s our bread and butter every day,” he said.

Doubling up as a car washer the 29-year-old charges R40 for a car wash but he’ll settle for R20 if he has to.

He said that since December, law enforcement had been making it difficult for them to earn a living.

“They take our buckets, clothes and tyre polish. About two years ago, they picked us up and dropped us at other places. They told us not to come back here.”

When asked why he thought people had problems with them, he admitted that they could get “loud” in the parking lot and that sometimes they fought among themselves. But he felt these were “small issues”.

Richard Nqenqa, 27, said being a car guard could get dangerous and he had the scars to prove it.

He said surfers often jumped out of their cars to have a quick peek at the waves before returning to their cars. But they often left their car doors open or unlocked and sometimes their windows were open as well.

A few months ago, one of the cars he was looking after had an open window.

“There were guys parked next to this car and they were playing loud music. They saw the window was slightly open and they were saying things to each other, but I couldn’t understand because they were speaking in Afrikaans. One came to me and asked me for a lighter, but I could see they were trying to distract me.

“The guy told me they want something in that car, but I said ‘no’, then another one got out of the car and he had a knife in his hand but it was wrapped in cloth so I didn’t see it. Only when I felt my hand was wet did I realise they stabbed me before they jumped back into their car and drove away”.

Mr Nqenqa lifted his top to reveal a scar to his abdomen. He said he was grateful to the lifeguards who bandaged him up.

Captain of the Milnerton Surf Lifesaving Club, Mark Mausenbaum, said not all the car guards were problematic. “

“There are a handful of good car guards and I keep a strong eye on them. Unfortunately, there are the opportunists who only rock up on weekends. They don’t care about the beach, they are just there to sell their drugs,” said Mr Mausenbaum.

He said a possible solution would be for the club to partner with the neighbouring restaurants to sponsor the “good apples” with bibs.

“In the last two weeks or so, I also haven’t seen the good car guards washing cars with water. I’ve seen them using a waterless product which is great,” he said.

The car guards was also a topic for discussion at the Milnerton Community Policing Forum (CPF) meeting last week. CPF chairwoman Lianne Lippert said that although law enforcement had been to Woodbridge Island a couple of times, a long-term solution was needed.

She said a possible solution would be to formalise the car guards by getting a “select few SAPS-cleared and somehow employed, possibly through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP)”.

Unfortunately, Mr Nqenqa’s act of valor is unknown to many and the call for an end to car guards at Woodbridge Island has been voiced on Milnerton Neighbours Facebook page.

Adrian Kaplan posted: “The ‘car guards’ on Woodbridge Island are extremely aggressive and it has just really become so unpleasant going there as a family. What to do…?”

Seventeen comments were made in response to Mr Kaplan’s post, including one from Italo Amore, who said: “City law enforcement are cowards….just like the rest of the community. Nobody stands up to these people and their wannabe intimidation tactics.”

Marina Lazarenko said: “Lagoon Beach is going downhill, and now Woodbridge Island as well”.

There were also complaints about the car guards using water to wash cars while the city endures tight water restrictions. Gordon Langford posted: “Each vehicle they wash consumes approximately 40 litres of water obtained from taps in the toilets at the lifesavers club and the outdoor shower facility… The amount of cars they wash is staggering at R40 per car without paying a damn cent toward the water being wasted.” Clara Correia responded saying: Cut the demand. Educate the people who have their cars washed by them.”

Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for area north, said the City had received complaints about the car guards and that “sporadic patrols” were carried out by law enforcement at the Woodbridge Island parking area.

“All shower taps have been removed from our beaches because of the water restrictions. Due to water restrictions, the car guards have been requested not to waste valuable water,” said Ms Little.

Ward 55 councillor Fabian Ah-Sing said he has visited the site three times in the past few weeks to assess the situation and ensure that the identified solutions to the concerns raised are implemented. “I am exploring the options available to resolve the concern raised by the residents. I will continue to keep residents informed,” he said.

Table View police spokeswoman Captain Adriana Chandler said that during the past ten months, five theft out of motor vehicle cases had been reported at the Woodbridge Island parking lot, where valuables such as laptops, clothing and cellphones had been left inside the car. No cases against car guards had been opened.