Thursday, October 29, 2020

Mayor vows action on car-park marshals who terrorise (mostly female) motorists

Ha o ntebile o ka re o lebile mas&*pa jaana!” he shouted at the young woman, putting half his energy on the ‘s’ of “mas&*pa” (which means faecal matter) to produce a hissing sound that clearly communicated rage that sounded a heartbeat away from physical violence. “Le gone a le mo toilet-eng!”

Gaborone mayor, Father Maphango, has vowed to take appropriate action against errant car-park marshals who basically scam and terrorise motorists at parking lots that are owned and maintained by the Gaborone City Council (GCC).As a Thursday morning incident at the parking lot of the Gaborone West shopping mall shows, all too often the terror victims are women – at a time that there is grave concern about gender-based violence.

A lady-driven car with a single passenger pulled into a bay, the latter hopped out while the former remained in the car. One of the many male car-park marshals approached the car and offered to watch over it. The driver merely shot him a dismissive glance, then rolled up the window to indicate that she neither had interest in the service that was being offered nor in engaging in conversation with the person offering it. In response, the marshal let loose a torrent of coarse language.

Ha o ntebile o ka re o lebile mas&*pa jaana!” he shouted at the young woman, putting half his energy on the “s” of “mas&*pa” (which means faecal matter) to produce a hissing sound that clearly communicated rage that sounded a heartbeat away from physical violence. “Le gone a le mo toilet-eng!”

The marshal was basically saying that the young woman was staring at him like he was unflushed faecal matter in a toilet. The victim was a statistic on a very long list of motorists who are verbally and sometimes physically harassed by criminals who have infiltrated the otherwise unproblematic informal sector of car-park marshalling. A hawker at the G-West mall tells Sunday Standard that one marshal, a young man who is still doing business at that same mall, has in the past levelled Setswana’s most common lavatorial insult (“O tla a nny…”) at an elderly motorist who rebuffed his overtures.

Sunday Standard recounted the broad outlines of the G-West mall incident to Maphango in service of finding out whether he was aware about how a public good entrusted to the care of his Council has essentially been commandeered for private gain and that such action involves the abuse of members of the public – especially women.

When it started at the Gaborone main mall years ago, the car-park marshal business had very few practitioners. To the extent we are aware, all were respectful young men whom motorists never complained about. At one point, Btv did a feature story on one of these marshals. Some of them are still in the business but there is now a new species of car-park marshal: a self-entitled, foul-mouthed criminal on the wrong side of prison bars. Aligned to the latter is an even bigger challenge: a business once confined to one part of town that is fast spreading all across town, with a very heavy element of the new type of marshal.

A GCC employee says that the BBS shopping mall has some of the most problematic marshals who not only ritualistically clash with motorists but also operate a side car-wash business – which is not allowed on the premises.

The main duty of car-park marshal is to direct incoming vehicles to empty parking bays. With no fee being either discussed or agreed upon, they mark the vehicles by placing numbered paper tags on the windshield. While the drivers are away running their errands, the marshals patrol parking areas in order to prevent vehicle damage and vehicle or property theft. When the drivers return, the marshals ask for “something” (code for a tip basically, not payment) and it is up to the drivers to decide whether or not to pop out something and how much. A Gaborone man recalls a car-park marshal flinging a P2 coin with which he tried to tip him, saying as he did, “What do you want me to do with P2?” In some cases, drivers who don’t give a tip are seen off the parking lot with very nasty remarks, some bordering on criminal insult. Some, like the young woman at G-West, are also subjected to verbal abuse because they don’t want to use this service.

There is a legal term for what is happening at GCC parking lots in literal broad daylight: extortion, which is a criminal offence. Ironically, at the main mall, this crime happens a few metres away from the Central Police Station. There is nothing wrong with directing incoming cars to a vacant (GCC) parking bay and hoping for a tip. However, when marshals expect payment from motorists and act out when they don’t get it, they are basically renting out bays that don’t belong to them, that they don’t maintain and that they themselves don’t pay for. The irony is that the motorists being extorted do themselves pay the government to use public roads. The money they pay as extortion is an additional charge.

The growth of car-park marshalling, both in terms of the number of those doing it and its geographic spread, points to something that is even more disturbing. From what we learn, a good day can yield around P500 – why else would this business be popular if it is not lucrative? The problem is that some of the money is literally extorted from members of the public and that this extortion could be imported to other parts of Botswana.

Interestingly, the problem is one that would be very easy to solve: set rules for the marshals and weed out the bad ones. That this fast-growing business is unregulated means that a murder suspect out on bail can show up at a GCC-owned parking lot in the morning, wearing a sleeveless reflector jacket and direct motorists in and out of parking bays. Mayor Maphango says that he is not aware of this problem and that women are the main victims. However, he vowed to take action against the culprits.

“We will certainly take action,” he vows. “What these people should understand is that their business is not even lawful. The Council is merely doing them a favour by allowing them to conduct that business on its parking lots.”

As regards women victims, the mayor says that it would be remiss to allow errant marshals to continue abusing women “at a time that we are talking about gender-based violence.” While the 1999-2004 council discussed the parking lots, it was never in the context of motorists being extorted but outsourcing their management to the private sector. Reacting to that resolution, the immediate past council (2014-2019) insisted that the marshals already in the business should be given priority – which makes perfect sense but for the fact that some of them basically extort money from motorists.

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