South Africa's Second Army
Nevin, Tom, African Business
Our Cover Story on the rise of private security firms in Africa (African Business, November 2012) appears to have set the cat among the pigeons. The government wants greater control of the industry while the firms themselves claim they are simply meeting a growing demand. Tom Nevin reports on the stand-off.
THE NUMBER OF PRIVATE LAWMEN and women in South Africa greatly outnumbers the servicemen enrolled on the South African Police Services (SAPS). Next to the agricultural industry, the private security sector is the biggest employer in the land. That mind-blowing number, over 2/II, worries the government and is the reason the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, is hoping to amend the Private Security Industry Regulation Act and bring more of this army of private security personnel under his control. In particular, he wants to restrict the number employed by such foreign-owned companies as G4S, ADT and Chubb, and force a change of ownership that is majority South African.
Two million private security personnel is also a number that speaks volumes for the public's lack of confidence in the government's men and women in blue, and a grim reminder that South Africa is amongst the world's most lawless nations.
"There is a security situation in this country, brought about by rampant lawlessness and the private security companies have grown, both in number and in size, in response to it," says Jenny Reid, president of the South African Security Association (SASA). "Because the government has not convinced South Africans it is able to contain the threat, the private sector has filled the vacuum and provided a service that is absolutely necessary."
The proposed law, still at the bill stage and yet to have its first reading in Parliament, mirrors the government's concerns at the number of foreign security companies that have set up shop in South Africa and employ more than half of the country's private lawmen. "Having an armed foreign force on our soil is causing serious jitters in Union Buildings (the government's headquarters in Pretoria)," says Reid.
To African Business's question about whether the issue could be resolved, either through new legislation or closer liaison between the police and the private security companies, Reid responds that the situation will only improve when the police service and the security companies can sit down and map out a way forward.
"We worked together extremely well during the two weeks of the World Cup," says Reid. "There's absolutely no reason we can't do so again on a more permanent basis. The fear should not be about the professionally run foreign companies but rather the many fly-by-night security organisations in South Africa that are often used by government departments. …