I was an ambassador of Wits
- Buhle Zuma
After 26 years at Wits dedicated parking officer, Michael Bodibe, dons his uniform for the last time.
For years Michael Bodibe’s presence on the Braamfontein Campus brought the feeling of both fear and reassurance.
The recently retired parking officer shared his story and what working at Wits meant to him. “In this job, I was an ambassador of Wits. Every day I came across new people, local and international visitors who needed help with directions around the University. I made it my duty to help them have a positive experience at Wits.”
A parking officer, Bodibe brought order to the busy road and parking spaces on campus. The seriousness with which he approached his job was appreciated by many because it meant that they could proceed with their activities with ease. This firmness has also been a source of rage for those who violate the University’s road and parking rules.
On Thursday, 31 March 2016, Bodipe was manning his work station at the Wits Planetarium traffic circle for the last time having reached retirement age.
Even on his final day, his energy and dedication was just as high as he cheerfully directed cars, service trucks and graduation guests. Smiles quickly changed to shock at the news that Bodibe was retiring.
Having worked at Wits for 26 years, Bodibe said that the people are what he will miss most at the University.
“The people here are warm and accommodating.”
Many memories are shared as we sit down to lunch. One of his proud and saddest moments was in August 2011. Bodibe was patrolling the grounds when he realised that a student was standing on the ledge of the Amic Deck bridge that stretches over the busy M1-highway. His swift action stopped the suicide attempt.
This incident, although rare, illustrates the complex nature of the job. Parking attendants and guards often have to strike a balance between applying rules and being human.
The issue of illegal parking and issuing of parking fines or clamping in extreme cases are not things that he liked dealing with during his time.
“Sometimes people had compelling reasons for being late, and you have to show compassion for their circumstances instead of going into an argument. You get into an argument and you mess up that person’s entire day,” Bodibe said.
Growing up in Soweto, the father of three aspired to be a bookkeeper. However, the political upheavals of the time interrupted his schooling. Bodibe said that his years at Orlando West High School were abnormal as the school was constantly under police surveillance having the likes of Tokyo Sexwale, who was his classmate. At one point he and other classmates were ordered to report to the police once a week to prove that they were still in the country and not involved in political activities.
Although he did not have the opportunity to fulfil his professional ambitions, Bodibe said he made the best of his job as a parking attendant.
Having given so many years to the University, Bodibe is now looking forward to spending his retirement at home with his wife and being a ‘mkhulu’ to his grandchildren.