Monograph 39: Policing for Profit: The Future of South Africa`s Private Security Industry, By Jenny Irish


With feelings of insecurity rapidly rising, an increasing number of South Africans are making use of private security companies to protect themselves and their assets. The broad private security industry is employing over 200 000 security guards throughout South Africa, of which the guarding industry is the largest with 125 000 guards working for some 3 200 security companies.

With an estimated turnover in excess of R10 billion per year, the money spent on private security is approaching that of the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) annual budget (R15,3 billion for the 1999/2000 budget year). Already, there are more than four private security guards for every uniformed member of the SAPS engaged in visible policing work.

It is not only in South Africa, however, where private forms of security are increasing in popularity. In the United States, there are some two million private security guards, 350 000 in Japan, and 162 000 in the United Kingdom.

The South African private security industry is increasingly performing functions which used to be the sole preserve of the police. Care needs to be taken, however, not to confuse the objectives of the two. While the police seeks to protect the public at large, the private security industry operates on a profit motive and is accountable to its clients only. Moreover, the police generally apprehend criminals after they have committed a crime, thus deterring potential criminals from committing future crimes. The private security industry, by contrast, seeks to prevent crimes from occurring in the first place.

A high degree of competition exists between South African private security companies. There are many small fly-by-night type security companies that provide a cheap but substandard service, thereby tarnishing the image and reputation of the industry as a whole. Through a number of mergers and takeovers, many of the larger private security companies have consolidated their position even further. There is a danger that a few large companies could end up dominating and even monopolising the South African private security market.

Many of the larger South African private security companies have expanded their operations into other countries in Southern African. Private security companies have even involved themselves in political conflicts taking place on the subcontinent. For example, erstwhile members of the South African Defence Force (SADF) were recruited by commercial security companies to assist both sides in the ongoing Angolan civil war.

The activities and functions of private security companies are regulated in most countries. The regulatory framework for the private security industry has become more extensive in many parts of the world. In South Africa, private companies that make use of guards are regulated by a statutory body, the Security Officers’ Board. The Board polices the regulations which govern the private security industry, and lays down minimum training standards for security guards.

A newly established Security Officers’ Interim Board will advise the Minister for Safety and Security on a new vision for the industry, in particular "... the promotion of democracy, transparency, equality, accessibility, and the satisfying of the needs of the community." The Interim Board thus has a specific focus on protecting the public interest.

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