Jenny Reid has been in the private security business for the past 18 years and, apart from running two successful companies in this highly competitive industry (now iFacts, a specialist employee screening company), she has risen to the top as president of the South African Security Association (SASA). Her skilful handling of South Africa’s biggest association of security companies has not gone unnoticed in faraway places. She was invited to Hong Kong in October to brief the Chinese Security Association about doing business with South Africa’s security sector. We posed a few questions about the security situation in South Africa.
Q: How necessary are private security companies? Are the police forces not enough?
A: The private security sector is essential globally. The degree of need for security companies depends on the effectiveness of the police service. If there’s confidence in the national policing structures, there probably wouldn’t be as great a desire for private security. A lot of it is perception. Am I safe, is my family safe? Do I need to hire security or can I depend on the state structure to protect me? In South Africa our very large private security industry is the result of a public mindset that reacts to our dire climate of violent crime.
Q: How much does the state depend on services such as your company provides?
A: That’s an issue that’s in the legal mill as we speak, with the rewriting of the legislation that governs the private security industry. It operates under the auspices of the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA). Foreign security companies such as ADT, G4S and others active in this country are under threat because the government wants them out – and they are truly massive employers and investors here.
The government doesn’t want foreign ownership in the security environment. There are echoes of the long-past “third force” and they are afraid of the way big foreign investment has poured into the security industry. For every one police officer there are at least three private security officers. As I say, it’s a global thing that responds to a perceived security need.
Q: There are nearly 2m private security officers registered in this country. The police consider this a threat. Is it?
A: It’s a dramatic number and a daunting image. But is it a threat? I don’t think so. It takes a long stretch of the imagination to picture nearly 2m men and women employed by security and guard companies suddenly getting together and marching on Pretoria. However, in the eyes of the government these private security officers pose a serious challenge to the police. Of course, they do not.
Q: Are the police services concerns justified?
A: The security situation is brought about by rampant lawlessness and the private security companies have grown, both in number and in size, in response to it. In fact, our industry is growing at a rate of 18% a year, way above GDP growth. Because the government has not convinced South Africans it is able to contain the threat, the private sector has filled the vacuum and provided a service that is absolutely necessary. The proposed law, still at the bill stage and yet to have its first reading in parliament, also mirrors the government’s concerns at the number of foreign security companies that have set up shop in South Africa, some of which are very big, ADT, for example, and G4S. Having an armed foreign force on our soil is causing serious jitters in government headquarters.
Q: What changes does the government envisage?
A: The legislation currently being drafted, the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill 2012, gives us a good idea. The latest draft leaves little doubt that, if enacted, it will enforce radical changes to the way the private security industry is regulated, especially in recruitment, funding and accountability of private security companies.
The reason for the proposed new law, says the Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, is to fill the gaps and weaknesses in the current legislation. Other aspects of the bill also require closer scrutiny. For example, the bill proposes that registration of foreign-owned security companies will only happen if South African citizens hold a majority of the shares.
Q: Could the private security companies and the SAPS work more closely together?
A: Perhaps we can. I think it’s a question of respect for one another and the acceptance that each is important in the greater scheme of keeping South Africans safe.
It is encouraging that the minister has identified what he describes as “a need for greater cooperation” between the private security industry and the SAPS, and he seems to be agreeing with the widely held sentiment that the South African private security industry has become a force to be reckoned with. A closer partnership is definitely called for, and for each to find its space.