South Africa’s security industry boom

October 2017 Security Services & Risk Management

Currently, South Africa’s private security industry is experiencing an unprecedented growth rate. Citizens are now spending as much as R45 billion annually to safeguard their lives, assets, homes and businesses. That’s a third more than the government spent on our police force in 2016 – making South Africa’s private security industry the fourth largest in the world per capita.

Conrad Van Rooyen, MD, BICASEC Risk Services.
Conrad Van Rooyen, MD, BICASEC Risk Services.

As long as the state keeps failing to supply sufficient security for civil society, its privatisation will continue, despite attempts to improve official policing.

Today there are in the region of 500 000 active private security officers in South Africa – this figure outnumbers South African Police Service employees by almost four to one. The state is of course experiencing this industry boom as a serious threat, even resorting to attempts at passing a controversial new private security bill.

If approved, this bill will give power to the minister of police to expropriate up to 100% of a foreign-owned security company, and limit foreign ownership of private security companies to 49%. It’s further estimated that more than 800 000 jobs across various sectors would be lost, as well as about R133-billion of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Not only will this bill reign in the private security industry, it’s also a veiled attempt to monopolise policing and a means for the state to benefit from this multi-billion rand industry.

Besides being in violation of South Africa’s commitments under the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Trade in Services, what’s most worrying is the bill’s impact on the paramount role our private security industry plays.

Let’s all hope this bill is not approved.

Now more than ever before South Africa’s private security industry needs the full backing of each and every citizen, our retail sector, and especially the state. Here are but a few reasons why.

SA’s murder rate

Our murder rate has risen nationally for the fourth year in a row, from 33 per 100 000 in 2014/2015 to 34 per 100 000 last year. By all indication this increase in fatal violence will continue over the coming years. What’s unsettling is that to date there are no solid answers as to why this is happening.

The threat to suburbia

House burglary is the number one contributor to public fear. And whilst recorded rates of house burglaries are on a long and steady decline – they’re now about a third lower than they were 15 years ago – this trend is mainly due to the increased reliance on private secur-ity companies.

Simply put, life without the security backing of private companies has become inconceivable.

The threat to our retail sector

There’s been a staggering 349% increase in business robberies over the last 11 years. According to SAPS statistics, this translates to an average of 54 reported armed robberies against businesses per day over the 2015/2016 cycle.

With an astounding 90% of attacks against businesses due to insider participation, there’s further been at least a 35% increase in attacks against retail cash deposit machines, safes and vaults. There’s also been a marked increase in the use of explosives. In reaction, and at too great a cost, our retail sector now has to dig deeper and deeper to safeguard its earnings, customers and employees.

Cash-in-transit heists

CIT crime is today seen as an elite crime in the criminal hierarchy. According to Dr Hennie Lochner, a senior lecturer at the University of South Africa and a former detective working on cash-in-transit cases, CIT syndicates’ methods are far more intricate and better executed than what is speculated.

“Typical cash-in-transit robberies are planned from 5-18 months before execution, and often with the help of corrupted cash-in-transit guards. They also set up safe houses close to the crime scene – mostly these are luxury homes in affluent neighbourhoods, drawing little attention.”

Lochner further adds that shopping centres have become key focus areas. “Syndicates are aware of the best escape routes, the pattern of police presence, where the CIT van is parked for collection and delivery, the amount of shoppers on site, the positioning of security guards and their numbers, as well as what’s happening a few hours before execution.”

Needless to say, our CIT industry is not geared to countering the threat posed by syndicates becoming more and more inventive with their strategies. This level of inventiveness is also not restricted to CIT crimes, but prevalent across all sectors targeted by criminals.

The lack of public faith in the South African Police Service

A recent ‘Victims of crime’ survey showed that the public’s faith in the police’s ability to solve crimes is steadily dropping. For example, in 2011, 64% of people had confidence in the police, whilst over the 2015/2016 cycle it dropped to 58.8%.

One of the main reasons for our continuous upward crime spiral is the tawdry state of the police service at grassroots level. In essence, and besides the scourge of corruption already plaguing our police force, it’s also under-staffed, its members under-trained, and it lacks vital resources to combat the ingenuity of modern syndicates. Sadly, the only part of the SAPS that meets security standards is the VIP Protection Service that works exclusively for our political elite.

No wonder South Africa’s citizens opt for private security. They literally hide behind walls guarded by electric fences, alarms and sensors, with security control room operatives on standby. If there’s a break-in or attack it’s mostly the security company one calls first, not the police.

Not too long ago SAPS management reported to Parliament that our police service loses about

6000 members every year. What’s worrying is that most of these vacancies are just not being filled. As a result greater pressure is placed on our police officers and detectives, which further restricts their ability to combat crime.

As long as the state fails in what is after all one of its fundamental duties to society, the privatisation of security in South Africa will expand and prosper. As citizens, it’s our duty to support this reality, to embrace it, and to learn to live with it. It’s the future, and ultimately no act of state will change it.

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