'It would feel good to help': Car guard finds diamond ring, seeks owner

26 May 2019 - 10:07 By Nonkululeko Njilo
Having lived a hard life, Pieter Marais values honesty
Having lived a hard life, Pieter Marais values honesty
Image: Nonkululeko Njilo/TimesLIVE

A car guard who found a diamond ring in the street is not saying finder's keepers and selling it for cash, as his self-respect comes from being a honest man who works for every cent.

Pieter Marais, 67, an amputee, said his conscience did not allow him to keep the ring he picked up two months ago in the middle of a road in Evander, a mining town near Secunda in Mpumalanga. With no luck so far, he is widening his search for the rightful owner.  

"It does not belong to me, I could have sold it or kept it as if it were mine, but I would not be able to sleep or live with myself," he told TimesLIVE.  

"I just want to keep it safe until I find the owner."

The wheelchair-bound Marais works as a car guard alongside two other people in the small town. As we walked around the area, not a single car passed by without motorists greeting, hooting or even making some conversation with him.

A glimpse at the ring showed that it was not new and had been worn for quite some time. 

"It is a  little bit damaged, I will not say where or how it was damaged but I presume a car went over it.

"But that does not change the fact that it might have a sentimental value to the person who's lost it. It could be an older person who could have had it for 20 years," said Marais. 

Born and bred in Cape Town, Marais said he moved to KwaZulu-Natal where he was employed as a truck driver who travelled around the country. Due to retrenchments, he was forced to work as a car guard in the 1990s. Moving to Mpumalanga, he trained as a security guard and was lucky to secure employment. 

"I worked as security for a number of years, was forced to quit when I fell into a huge hole that led to my leg being amputated," he said.    

Marais recalled how he was compensated and received a prosthetic leg.

Less than three years later, however, he was involved in an accident which claimed the prosthetic leg. He has been unable to afford to buy a new one ever since.  

After the blows of losing his security job and his leg, he suffered again when his wife passed away in 2012. 

"It took a while for me to get over her and just come to terms with her death. She was a beautiful soul. I loved her very much," he said.

Marais said despite all his misfortunes, life had to go on.

"I said to myself it is not the end of the world, I must carry on, life goes on," and he went back to being a car guard. 

While he had some prior experience in the job, he said it was different now that he was wheelchair bound and he encountered a number of challenges on a daily basis. 

"I often have to deal with people who just don't trust me, who think I am a beggar, people who just frown and are reluctant to allow me watch over their cars because even if they were to get stolen, I wouldn't be able to do much, just scream.

"But I've also met good people, who respect, like and accept me for who I am."

A motorist and resident in the area, Sipho Myeni, spoke kindly of Marais.

"I've known this honest old man for years, he loves his work. Even if you could drop something (accidentally in the street), he would be the first to let you know. He is really funny, always joking with everyone," said Myeni.

Financially, Marais said there were good and bad days. 

"On a really good day I make about R30-R70, and when it is really bad I go home with R4-R10, it depends," he said. 

He receives an old age grant which, after paying rent for a back room, leaves him with just R100 a month for everyday expenses like food. So he depends on the car guarding work to supplement this.

Marais said he failed to understand why he was sometimes mistaken for a beggar, as he was a hard worker.

"I can't go to people and beg, it's not in my blood. I can't take a board and sit by the robot and say 'I'm hungry, give me food'. I work for each and every single cent I get."

Marais said he expected no financial compensation for keeping the ring and searching for its owner.

"It would mean a lot for me to find the rightful owner. It would feel good to assist a fellow human being," he said.