By Emma Kakololo
There is the general perception that running a car-wash business is one of the easiest ways to make a quick buck. But those involved in washing and polishing vehicles do not seem to endorse this notion. They say it involves patience and a lot of hard work and perseverance.
“Washing cars is no baby work. There are days when I even leave this place without having washed a single car,” says 43-year-old Bonnie Dawid who has been washing cars since 1990 at a taxi rank located in Windhoek’s Central Business District (CBD) where there are many others like him.
Before that, Dawid worked at a garage in Outjo where his monthly salary was a paltry N$120. “I cannot say I’m getting more money now compared to when I started, because all the money goes for food. In a month, sometimes I take home N$500 and sometimes N$600,” says the father of three.
He said that while he has a lot of customers, not all of them often seek his services, and some only show up on a weekly basis, or even on a monthly basis.
“I have many customers – about 20 – but some of them I only see after a month or two. They don’t come here regularly,” he said, wiping away the soap residue from a vehicle with a clean, damp cloth.
“You see, if you leave the car to dry naturally, all your hard work will go to waste. And this material also costs money,” he said, pointing to the vehicle he was busy washing.
“Yes, it is true,” replied 33-year-old Ileni Simon nodding in agreement with his colleague.
“Water is expensive. On top of this, we have to buy the desktop spray, the soap and polish for the tyres. If you deduct all this, we are left with little to take home,” he said.
However, for Pandu Mutumbulwa and many other vehicle-owners who took their vehicles for a wash last Friday, it takes simple mathematics to determine that car-washing was indeed a thriving trade.
“If I calculate correctly, these guys make N$100 per day, which is far too much. They don’t pay rent and they only pay N$2 for 25 litres of water. That’s very cheap.”
Like other vehicle-owners, too, Mutumbulwa felt that the N$30 charge was just too much. “Imagine, I bring my car here three times a week,” he responded when approached for comment.
Despite complaining about the high fees, most vehicle-owners who had their vehicles washed at the taxi rank also acknowledged the good service they received.
“This is a great place to get your dirty car sparkling clean,” admitted Johannes Johannes. “If you have a regular person washing your car, he can also do it for you on credit on the day you don’t have money. That is why I prefer to get my car washed here.”
The amount one has to pay to get your vehicle clean, differs according to the vehicle type. For example, N$30 for a sedan, N$45 for a four-wheel pick-up, N$50 for a minibus and only N$20 for taxis since the area from where they operate is meant for taxis.
According to 28-year-old Petrus Lukas, the fact that some clients refuse to pay the N$30 is one of the reasons why they do not make much profit at the end of the day.
“Some customers come up with their own offers, which we have to take because we need the money. What can we do after washing the car; they only want to give you N$15. We have no other choice but to accept the money,” he said.
Like many of his colleagues, Lukas hails from the north. After completing his Grade 10, he came to Windhoek to look for a job.
“Here it is all up to you to find a customer. We don’t have many customers like those who have been working here for many years, so for me the N$400 I get monthly is enough,” says Lukas. “So far, I only have three customers, and the others I have to run after when they come here to try to persuade them to let me wash their cars.”
Lukas claimed that unlike in the past, they do not make a lot of profit anymore since the place has now been invaded by many other unemployed people who try to make a living by doing the same thing.
“There is no coordination any more. Sometimes we are just too many, over a hundred people trying to wash cars. But what can we do? they are people like us who come from the squatter camps, hungry.”
New Era counted about 110 car-washers on the site.
Andreas Ngenokesho was one of the youngest, just 19 years old. After failing his Grade 10 and having no one to pay for him to register with Namcol to improve his grades, he headed for the capital. He comes from a family of 13. His father died five years ago.
Although he is happy with his income of between N$800-N$900 per month, he appealed to the municipality to instal a prepaid water system at the rank since the one they are using is about six to seven metres away.
“Sometimes, the water gets cut off because the owner does not settle his municipal bill on time, and we go back home hungry.”