The parking outside Pretoria North’s car licence department is always filled with men who seek to assist you in any dealings you have with the local bureaucracy. Car licences, registration of vehicles, driver’s licences for various size vehicles, road worthy certificates and anything else you may need from that office, there are men eager to assist. Everyone warns you not to trust them.

The day came, a very hot Northern Gauteng day, when I needed a new copy of my driver’s licence. We had just undertaken a long shopping trip. When you live well away from the retail world and have to cross pot-holed roads that Tshwane municipality is unwilling, unable or too otherwise occupied, to repair, you cannot make unnecessary trips to the grocer, butcher, vegetable man and such. After each trip on a hot day you are pretty much bushed.

We arrived at the licence office on such a day, after such a trip. The queue of very tired-looking people, most of them not young, was extensive. “Damn,” I said. “Look at that. I can’t face joining the back of that queue.”

“Nor can I,” Miriam said. “Maybe this time we can get someone to help us. They can’t all be dishonest.”

I agree,” I said. “They can’t all be.”

Three of the kind we had been warned about came sauntering towards us, hands in their pockets. “Need help, sir?”

“Go away,” I said.

Another chancer skipped towards us, smiling in a most friendly way. “He doesn’t look too terrible,” Miriam said.

“That smile is too phony,” I said. “We don’t need your help,” I told him.

“Costs nothing,” he said.

“No.” We walked on.

In the meantime, the queue continued to grow, so did the heat of the day. The people in the queue looked terrible, exhausted and irritable. I wondered how long they had been waiting. On top of that, our car was parked in the sun, laden with stealable groceries.

At that moment a well-dressed man with a businesslike air approached. “Let me help you with your licences, sir. It’ll cost nothing.”

I looked suspiciously at him.

“Have you got copies of your IDs?” he asked.

“No,” I told him.

“We’ll go upstairs to get them,” he said. “I’m afraid that’s going to cost you ten rands. Can I show you the way?”

“If he was trying to cheat us, he wouldn’t want ten rands for photocopies,” Miriam whispered.

“Right,” I said. “Good thinking.”

So, we followed him up the stairs, paid for and received our photocopies.

“Right,” he said. “Now you can just relax in your car while I go inside and collect your licences.”

“How much?”

“Only nine hundred.”

Well, we had paid for our photocopies, the day had become still hotter and the queue still longer. As an added incentive, he said, “This guy he said will stay with you as my guarantee as long as I’m away.”

I gave him the nine hundred.

“Won’t be long, sir. Just wait for me in your car.”

By the time we got to the car the guarantee had disappeared. I really cannot say what happened to him. We waited, and waited. Eventually, I said, “We’ve just lost nine hundred rands.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Miriam said.

At the police station which is perhaps fifty metres away from the crime scene, the officer behind the counter told me. “Just never give any of them money. They’re a bunch of crooks. You’ll never see your money again.”

So we went in amongst the scattered crowd of those who claim to be assisting people who need help. Miriam started taking photographs of them. Heads were ducked and faces hid. Some just fled. We took our pictures back to the police station so that some at least could be identified.

“I can’t do anything about this,” the officer behind the counter said. “Do you know how dangerous they are?”

“No,” I admitted. “I don’t know.”

“I can’t even move them on. They might attack me. I’ve got a wife and two kids.”

Help for the Aged