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26 November 2014 08:09 (South Africa)
South Africa

Unregulated, and taking root: SA's private security peril

  • Mandy de Waal
  • South Africa
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In terms of size, South Africa’s private security industry vastly overshadows the SAPS, and when it comes to brute force, these commercial defence units are just as deadly. However, unlike the police, which have a watchdog body, there’s no independent organisation that monitors the transgressions of the burgeoning private security sector. By MANDY DE WAAL.

Miners at the Magdalena and Aviemore mines in Dannhauser near Dundee in Kwazulu-Natal are due back at work on Monday 19 November 2012, but will be going underground without two of their colleagues.

Forbes & Manhattan Coal Corp announced it had successfully negotiated an average wage increase of 14.8% with employees. "Management is committed to maximising production in the current and next quarter in order to meet the revised 2013 targets,” CEO, Stephan Theron, said in a statement.

No mention was made of Alfred Mzikayifani Mdiyako and Sanele Mthethwa, who were shot dead on Wednesday 31 October 2012, allegedly by a private security firm contracted by the Canadian mine owners.

Mdiyako’s son, Sphamandla Mncube (who also works at the mine) told The Witness that strikers were picketing outside the gates of the mine when they were instructed to move by the SAPS on the fateful day his father was shot.

“As we sang songs we were requested by the police to move away from the mine gate. We went and gathered near a donga away from the gate where we continued singing,” Mncube said, recalling what happened. 

“We saw one of the mine managers loading Mbube security guards in the back of his van at the mine gate and (he) drove towards us. As the security guards jumped off the van they charged at us, firing shots,” the striking mineworker said, and added that Mdiyako ran into a shack at a nearby informal settlement for cover.

“Two security guards followed and dragged him out. He broke away and ran, and one of them shot him,” Mncube said, and added: “It’s sad because he was not fighting them, but they decided to kill him.”

A police spokesperson said that the SAPS were investigating two counts of murder related to the incident, but Stuart Cumming of Mbube Security told the Northern KwaZulu-Natal Courier that Mbube Security had nothing to do with the deaths.

"My guards never chased the strikers. No mine official used an Mbube uniform.  That is a fallacy.  Any loss of life is regrettable.  Sadly, the unions and the strikers themselves must take full responsibility for this loss of life. We will co-operate with the police investigation," Cumming said.   

The deaths of Mdiyako and Mthethwa come at a time when there’s growing concern about the role of private security companies in South Africa, and while the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill is being discussed by parliament's police portfolio committee.

The amendment bill would afford the ministry of police much greater powers to regulate the private security industry, and seeks to limit foreign ownership of security companies to no more than 49%. If the bill goes through as is, internationals would have to sell off 51% of their businesses to locals within five years in an industry that is now said to be worth R50 billion, and which is amongst the biggest in the world.

To get a good understanding of just how big the private security business is, all you have to do is to compare it to the SAPS – which is what Gun Free South Africa did for its oral submission on Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill. The results are surprising.

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 were 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? DM

Read more:

  • Need to improve oversight of security officers on BDLive 
  • Security industry hits at S Africa plan in The Financial Times 
  • Download the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill 
  • Download ‘Regulating Private Security in South Africa’ by Julie Berg & Vavariro Gabi of the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum

Photo: People take pictures of an armed private security guard during the court appearance of African National Congress Youth League president (ANCYL) Julius Malema at the Johannesburg court for a hate speech trial April 18, 2011. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

  • Mandy de Waal
  • South Africa


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