How and why did a Cape Town couple respond to the job losses threatening a group of vulnerable car guards? Here’s a business to inspire us all as we face down a Covid-stricken economy. MIKE and YVONNE KANE and their employees JEREMY TAYLOR, JOHNSON MASANGU and HAROLD VINTHENGA spoke to NANINE STEENKAMP
Happy story! When Kenilworth Centre car guards faced losing their income, a husband and wife stepped in to support them with a business venture from which they’re not seeking to make a profit. ‘In time we would like to transfer ownership to employees,’ they say | Photos: Leentjie du Preez
MIKE and YVONNE KANE live in Rondebosch. Mike (62) is a fund manager and Yvonne (59) serves in a variety of roles at Christ Church, Kenilworth. They have two adult sons
I’D KNOWN THE CAR GUARDS at the Kenilworth Centre for quite some time when the shopping centre implemented a paid parking system. The men stood to lose their income. How could we help them? Keen to create employment, I thought there was an opportunity to start a car wash and got a favourable response from the centre management. In 2017, Yvonne and I bought a franchise and employed eight men as washers.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride! In summer, we usually have a monthly client base of 800 cars, but winter is more challenging as fewer people wash their cars then. We’re thankful for our returning clients. Covid has been a challenging time and the centre showed particular understanding and compassion regarding our rental.
‘My life’s so much richer,’ says Mike about his involvement in the car wash | Photo: Leentjie du Preez
We don’t run the business to make a profit and in time would like to transfer ownership to employees. Of course, there’s an employer/employee relationship dynamic to come to terms with, but we like to refer to our employees as our friends, people we want to sustain and support.
In the end, the Kenilworth Centre ended up actually keeping on its car guards, but the car wash business continues as a non-profit entity.
My relationship with God deepens my relationship with others and connects me to people with whom I mightn’t otherwise connect. My life is so much richer because of the car wash, due to the interaction with the guys who work there. Observing their growing dignity has been remarkable. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to be involved in something that adds to my life, too.’
‘I learn a lot, especially when driving the car washers,’ says Yvonne | Photo: Leentjie du Preez
‘The business opened just as the water crisis hit South Africa, so we went waterless using thinkblu, a high-quality German product. Two years later, lockdown closed us down for two months! We reopened during level three but business was halved so we decided to offer an additional home-wash service. This has carried us through the last few months, enabling our employees to receive a decent wage.
I drop off the washers for home-washes in Rondebosch, Kenilworth and Claremont. All clients need is a power point for a vacuum cleaner, we bring the rest. It’s quite hassle-free for customers.
Yvonne: ‘Mike and I decided we need to do this properly.’ | Photo: Leentjie du Preez
We have a great, well-presented team and get wonderful feedback from clients. I feel privileged to connect with people from a different background who have different life experiences to mine. I learn a lot, especially when driving the washers to jobs in the surrounding neighbourhoods: they have such great faith.
Mike and I decided we needed to do this properly, to run it as a good business and to honour our staff in the way we manage them. I help with day-to-day management while our supervisor Jeremy takes care of operations. It’s very satisfying to be involved in the employment of others. The car wash is a training ground for workmanship and customer-service skills, and we like to encourage our employees that this work could be a stepping stone to many opportunities.
Interested in them as people
I hope the guys don’t only see this as a work opportunity but as a business interested in them as people. I believe I was nudged by God to connect with people who aren’t as privileged as me. There’s a prayer I find very helpful, which goes, Lord, help me to do well the few things I am called to do.’
‘I’M NOW HELPING MY MOTHER’: MEET THREE OF THE KC CAR WASH GUYS!
JOHNSON MASANGU is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and has a law degree
Johnson: ‘Life was so painful for me. I’m so grateful’ | Photo: Leentjie du Preez
‘I came to South Africa in 2017 and started working as a security guard, then a car guard. Everything was strange for me and at one point I told my father that I wanted to come home as life was so painful here for me. But I prayed to God to give me courage, to continue with my English courses and to cope with so little money.
When I heard about the opportunity at the car wash, my first response was, Ah my God, I finish my five years at university to come and wash cars? But I had no choice and the income ended up being more than at previous jobs. I was also given managerial responsibilities, and this made me pleased I’d accepted this opportunity.
Mike came alongside me and asked me lots of questions about my life. He encouraged me to apply for a bursary from the St John’s Parish Educational Fund, and to pursue further business studies. The car wash also ensured that all the workers were properly documented and sponsored me to travel to Musina to apply for my asylum permit. I’m still studying and learning how business principles apply to the car wash. I’m so grateful to God for this opportunity.’
HAROLD VINTHENGA is from Malawi and lives with his wife and baby daughter in Gugulethu
Harold: ‘I’m now able to support my family and help build a house for my mother’ | Photo: Leentjie du Preez
‘I joined KC Car Wash in January 2018. The thing that I like most about this job is that we work as a family and our boss is a good example for us. They always show us the good way to love and respect each other.
I feel good about this opportunity because I am able to support my family, other people, and help build a house for my mother. My dream now is to work hard, learn from this job and start my own business.’
JEREMY TAYLOR has two adult daughters and lives in Southfield
Supervisor Jeremy Taylor with washer Peter Herbert: ‘There are challenges in being part of the car wash’s higher management but it’s also very rewarding when our washers get to understand the job’ | Photo: Leentjie du Preez
MORE PHOTOS FOR YOU TO ENJOY BY OUR TALENTED PHOTOGRAPHER, LEENTJIE!
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Consider supporting this worthwhile employment initiative by booking a wash and/or vacuum for your car: home visit or on the spot at the car wash! Call or WhatsApp 060 689 5844 for details, or simply drop in the car wash (find it at the ground floor undercover section of the Kenilworth Centre, near the Capitec entrance)