South Africa: As police lose the war on crime, private security companies step in


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Thamsanqa Mothobi was going about his life in Johannesburg when he was carjacked and taken to an informal settlement, where robbers accessed his mobile banking apps.

“They had guns and demanded PIN codes for my apps. They increased the withdrawal limit on my accounts and emptied them. I was released only in the early hours of the morning,” said the father of three, adding that his one comfort was that he was not killed.

It’s an all-too-common story in South Africa, a country where there has been an average of 75 murders and 400 deaths in the past year. robberies with aggravating circumstances According to official statistics, every day. Although it may be the most developed country in Africa, it is also one of the highest violent crime rate In this world.

Experts have warned that South African police are losing the fight against crime – and this has led citizens who can afford it to turn to the booming private security industry.

“It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” said Anton Coen, a former police officer who now runs a private security firm that specializes in tracking and recovering hijacked and stolen vehicles. “The murder rate is the highest it has been in 20 years, the violence is getting worse as our justice system continues to fail us, the people of South Africa.”

According to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority, there are more than 2.7 million registered private security officers in the country, making South Africa’s security industry one of the largest in the world. This compares to less than 150,000 police officers for the country’s 62 million people.

Private security companies earn monthly fees for patrolling neighborhoods and providing armed response to their clients’ alarm systems. They also provide tracking and car recovery services, often resulting in them being involved in high-speed chases of car thieves and hijackers.

PSIRA figures show that the number of security businesses in South Africa has increased by 43% over the past decade, while the number of registered security officers has increased by 44%.

Associated Press journalists accompanied private security officers on patrol around suburbs in eastern Johannesburg, where it was clear they were playing the role of police in many situations.

Coen was armed with an assault rifle and wore a bulletproof vest as he patrolled in his response vehicle, which is equipped with cameras and car registration recognition technology that can pick up suspected stolen vehicles.

During a patrol, Koen quickly arrived where two suspects had been captured by other private security personnel, as the vehicle they were traveling in was linked to burglaries and armed robberies. The suspects were handed over to the nearest police station, which is usually the case with people captured by security firms.

But staying safe and avoiding crime is another example of extreme inequality This plagues South Africa, as only the wealthy few can afford private security services. The majority of South Africans still have to rely on an under-resourced and struggling police force.

According to PSIRA figures, more than 580,000 private security guards are currently active and employed – more than the police and army combined.

“The number of people with money in South Africa is very small. “That means the majority of South Africans don’t really benefit from this security industry,” said Chad Thomas, an organized crime expert who has worked for more than 30 years in law enforcement and now private security.

“If you live in a traditional township environment, or if you live in an informal settlement, you’ll see very few security patrols in those areas because they don’t have paying customers.”

Even those who are fortunate enough to have private security cannot always be assured of security.

In November, a South African government minister and her bodyguard were held at gunpoint on a highway and were robbed of their money and cellphone. The two bodyguards were forced to lie on the ground while the robbers vandalized their vehicle and stole their police-issued guns.

It was a reminder that as long as violence is rampant in South Africa, everyone is in danger.

Thomas, like many, links South Africa’s high levels of violent crime to anger toward the country deep problems of poverty,

“We’ve seen this anger manifest into violent acts,” Thomas said. “So, what should be a normal robbery where a gun is pointed at someone and their stuff is taken … becomes an opportunity for the robber to take out his frustration and anger on that innocent victim.”

Violent crime in South Africa has increased after largely falling over the past decade. were 27,494 Murders in South Africa by February 2023 compared to 16,213 in the year 2012-2013. The murder rate in South Africa was 45 per 100,000 people in 2022–2023, compared to 6.3 in the United States and about 1 in most European countries.

Police say that in an effort to reverse this trend, 10,000 new police officers are going into the service from the beginning of 2024.

“It’s more boots on the ground, we will have more members on the ground who will be able to reach more communities and deliver more services,” National Police Commissioner General Fanny Masemola said during some graduation parades in December. New officers.

In a sign that police are overwhelmed, local government officials in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, recently introduced their own crime wardens to help law enforcement. Uniformed but unarmed wardens provide assistance in police operations, although they have faced questions over their legal status.

Thomas said crime “can thrive in an environment where there is a disorganized police force.”

“We don’t have a disorganized police force because they are ready to be disorganized,” he said. “It’s simply because they don’t have enough resources, they don’t have enough capacity.”


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