Kwesbare groepe in die informele ekonomie: ʼn Gevallestudie van motorwagte in Johannesburg se Wesrand

Translated title of the contribution: Vulnerable groups in the informal economy: A case study among car guards in Johannesburg's West Rand

Marinda Pretorius, Derick Blaauw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


South Africa's high levels of car-related crime and spiralling unemployment have resulted in the development of a distinctive South African practice where people are looking after vehicles in shopping malls' parking sites in exchange for a fee during the last 25 years. People who have lost their work or who never had a formal job in the past could work as a car guard in South Africa. Here, they enjoy little if any of the protection that the labour dispensation provides formal workers. They are therefore indeed an extremely vulnerable group in the informal sector. This article is based on a survey among 110 car guards in Roodepoort and Crown Mines in 2017 with the aim to investigate the socio-economic vulnerability of car guards. Car guards are both socially and economically vulnerable. Besides earning a low income, they are also required to pay a considerable portion of their income to shopping centres or car guard agencies. The average car guard in the survey earns between R7.31 and R21.94 per hour. The average fee per hour was calculated at R12.60 at the time of the survey. The current minimum hourly wage in South Africa is R20. This implies that the average car guard earns less per hour than the official minimum wage in the country. If one keeps in mind that these are gross amounts (the car guards must often pay a daily fee to a car guard organisation from this income), then the economic vulnerability of car guards is obvious. Their economic situation is therefore extremely vulnerable. This vulnerability is worsened by the uncertainty with regard to future income. Their working conditions expose them to various health risks as they are prone to fluctuating weather conditions, such as severe heat and cold, on a daily basis. If they do not work (because of, for example, illness), they earn no income. The researchers identified several possible limitations during the research. In some instances, the language proficiency of the foreign born car guards was indeed a challenge. In these cases, fellow car guards were able to act as interpreters in order to complete the interview. We realise that the sample cannot be used to generalise conclusions for the whole of South Africa. However, the results broadly corroborate the results of surveys in Pretoria (Steyn 2018) and Durban (Foster & Chasomeris 2017). It should be clear that car guards, as is the case with other groupings in the informal economy (e.g. day labourers and waste pickers), experience vulnerability on both social and economic levels. The results of this survey emphasise that a number of questions and uncertainties in terms of the car guard industry remain. These require the attention of researchers. One of the most important points on any future research agenda, will have to be the role of car guard agencies as labour brokers. These brokers apparently take very few risks, yet receive a significant portion of the tips earned by car guards. It is crucial that their role and activities be analysed economically. The second critical aspect requiring further research, is the role of foreign born migrants in the car guard industry in South Africa. This is a conclusion based on this article but also corroborated by the work of Steyn (2018). The mere fact that such a high proportion of car guards in this survey is foreign born, puts a new perspective on the future analysis of the industry. This issue can no longer be ignored. South Africa remains a destination of choice for many immigrants who have to leave their country of origin for political and economic reasons. The renewed economic crisis in, for example, Zimbabwe and the lack of food and employment opportunities in other Southern African countries are push factors which inevitably result in a constant supply of immigrants to South Africa. Once here, they often compete with South African citizens for limited opportunities in the informal economy. These foreign workers are especially vulnerable. They enjoy little if any protection under the law. They are, furthermore, prone to being arrested, or paying bribes and under threat of possible deportation. The lived experiences of these foreign car guards need urgent investigation to better comprehend their vulnerability, allowing us to formulate sound and informed policy and strategies.

Translated title of the contributionVulnerable groups in the informal economy: A case study among car guards in Johannesburg's West Rand
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)642-656
Number of pages15
JournalTydskrift vir Geesteswetenskappe
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Car guards
  • Informal economy
  • Poverty
  • Survival
  • Unemployment
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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