Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

19 November 2012

South Africa: Unregulated, and Taking Root - SA's Private Security Peril

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The growth in SA’s private security sector has been massive - as this table from a paper called “Flying below the radar? - The armed private security sector in South Africa” by Natalie Jaynes indicates. According to regulator body the PSIRA 8,828 private security companies are registered and active locally. In 2001, this number stood at 5,491.

But Jaynes' research shows that the burgeoning sector is riddled with flaws and loopholes. She states that there is no proper record of private security company munitions, and no central data repository for information on deaths or injuries caused by private security employees.

“In addition to a lack of information on the extent of firearms and rounds of ammunition held by PSCs (private security companies), there is a lack of knowledge of the extent of misuse and abuse of PSC firearms.

Currently, neither PSIRA nor the South African Police Services (SAPS) keep a record of cases of death and injury perpetrated with PSC firearms specifically,” Jaynes writes.

The report details a lack of oversight, with too few inspectors, confusion about training standards, and a high prevalence of criminal cases against private security companies. PSIRA’s annual report for 2010/2011 details that 257 new criminal cases were opened against private security companies, while a further 1,471 improper conduct dockets were opened by the regulatory body.

Then there is the matter of criminality within the industry. In 2008 the police ministry conducted a voluntary process and some 170,728 security guards where vetted by the SAPS using police criminal records. A total of 14,729 of the guards were linked to possible criminal activities listed on the SAPS Criminal Records Centre despite being having valid security registrations.

Another massive problem is that locally, companies who employ negligent security companies are not held accountable for transgressions.

International best practice is for contracting parties to ensure that their private security companies are of a certain standard and don’t have criminal records.

“In South Africa, clients are viewed simply as end-users and do not face sanction for hiring PSCs that are negligent,” writes Jaynes. “The key informant interviews revealed allegations of Air Ports Company South Africa (ACSA) utilising training service providers that do not adhere to even the most basic PSIRA training standards when it comes to firearm training for the guards. Similarly, large parastatals like Transnet manage to fly below the radar and remain unaccountable for firearm misuse by the guards that the company contracts.”

As the Farlam Commission established to investigate events that led to the Marikana massacre resumes on Monday, all eyes will be on the SAPS, and rightly so. But what of the private security industry and the role these security companies have played in mining deaths and violence? Who will police South Africa’s private security industry?

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