Grant us gratitude for guards

Most of the time we ignore them as we cruise into parking lots in our shiny Mercs, 4X4s or not- so-stylish jalopies.

Mostly, we pretend not to see their expectant smiles as they gesture dutifully.

Come rain, come shine, they are always there.

They are the parking attendants, the car guards who you will always find at your favourite shopping mall.

Their enthusiasm reminds me of the gate-minders serving affluent households in Nigeria's suburban Lagos. The only difference is that there the minders are exclusively male and are referred to as "gate boys" by their black bosses who they call "master".

The car guards at our malls are not gender specific and they depend on the tips they get from shoppers to get by.

A tip can be anything from a few coins to a handful of coins. Notes? Seldom if ever. And a R5 tip solicits a rat-a-tat-a-tat of "thank you, thank you, thank you" from the grinning and nodding recipient.

That done, the guard promptly directs you out of your parking bay, still smiling. Saluting, waving or both, the guard gazes at your grocery-laden car until it is out of sight.

Sometimes the attendant also helps you unload your trolley and then pushes it away. All this courtesy for R5 or less or even for nothing, niks.

Yes, I have seen a smile freeze on many a face when no reward is forthcoming.

But, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel for these unrecognised brothers and sisters, many of whom have families to feed and clothe.

This week, together with the local police, Jabulani Mall in Soweto honoured 22 car guards with Valuable Contribution certificates in recognition of their service.

The award ceremony took place at the posh Galito's restaurant at the mall where the guards were also given gifts and hampers and treated to a sumptuous breakfast.

When the mall was opened last October about 15 cars were stolen on that day alone.

The centre's manager, David Pooe, who recruited the 22 unemployed young men, said: "These guards have done so much for the mall which is now a much safer place than it was during its first month of opening."

Daniel Mthombeni, Jabulani police station commissioner, is impressed.

"These young men have helped reduce the crime rate at this centre," he said.

Jackson Malapela, one of the car guards, said: "It is good to know that our job is appreciated and that we have made a difference."

I remember reading a story last year about a car guard at one of Johannesburg's malls who hung on to the bonnet of car while it was being driven off by a thief. Attempts to shake the guard off were futile as he sped away until the police stopped him.

The thief might be languishing in jail but I wonder what happened to the brave guard. Who knows, but maybe his gallantry earned him the cherished R5 coin.

On your next visit to the local mall, smile, tip your guard handsomely and say "thank you". It will make his day.