The SA Private Security Industry: The dark horse with significant potential

Sep 13, 2013

In a country that faces a never ending tide of crime, it should come as no surprise that consumers have turned to the private security industry for protection. A direct result of this has been an unprecedented growth of that industry. According to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) there are some 9 000 security companies and 450,000 registered employees working in the private security sector today. In fact, private security personnel registered in accordance with PSIRA regulations currently outnumber South African Police Services employees by four to one. While the private security industry serves a very important role in South Africa it is not without its inherent challenges. But like most things in life, challenges can also present opportunities.

One of the greatest threats facing the private security industry in South Africa has been the rise of a number of companies that operate illegally within the sector. These fly-by-night operators do not comply with PSIRA regulations and regularly undercut those compliant service providers when it comes to quoting and tendering for security services to consumers, be they private individuals or businesses.  Various associations within the private security industry, including the Security Association of South Africa (SASA) have worked long and hard to spread the message of compliance to consumers, making them aware of the problem, and also by trying to eradicate these non-compliant operators by reporting them to PSIRA.
One of the other major challenges facing the private security industry has been its ongoing volatile relationship with its regulatory authority. In addition, during 2012, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa launched the Private Security Industry Regulation Act Amendment Bill, 2012, which the minister says is intended to regulate control of the rapidly expanding private security industry. However, since its introduction the bill has been widely criticised by the security sector for not addressing some of the “real challenges” associated with operating within the local private security context.
While the industry welcomes the opportunity to work more closely with government towards effective crime prevention, the new bill did not address any of the challenges that currently plague the industry, including the unprecedented growth of illegal or “fly-by-night” security firms. Furthermore, while new regulation is all good and well, if there is no enforcement of these regulations by PSIRA then unethical security firms continue to operate as they please.
At iFacts, which is dedicated to removing the people risk from organizations, we are still seeing many potential security personnel that fail some of the pre-employment screening processes we apply. These include background and criminal record checks. A non-compliant security company would not even bother to check its employee’s credentials, leaving the clients of that security company very vulnerable indeed.
While we strongly support crime-prevention alliances between the private security industry and the state, the industry is highly concerned with the near draconian control that the minister appears to seek over the private security sector as well as the fact that he wants all security firms in South Africa to be majority-owned by South African citizens, regardless of companies’ global origins and proprietorship. While there is a clear lack of enforcement by PSIRA, any new laws will simply continue to be ignored by those unethical and illegal security firms currently operating within the sector.
The problem is that the fly-by-night operators do not pay fees and they are not regulated by PSIRA so they won’t be affected by new laws or fee increases. The increase will ultimately be passed to the consumer who will soon find private security services from ethical companies completely unaffordable and will once again turn to illegal outfits. This will only serve to perpetuate the status quo.
On the up side. SASA has been making great strides in developing a mutually beneficial relationship with PSIRA One thing we can do is spread the word on the need for greater compliance. PSIRA’s recent Compliance Forums are a step in the right direction. In addition, the PSIRA roadshows showed how this collaborative educational effort worked rather well. It was a positive example of how we can work together to find a more cogent solution to a fractured industry.
Furthermore, the private security industry is getting stronger. At a special general meeting held on 27 August, SASA members voted in favour of a proposed merger between SASA and the Security Services Employer Organisation (SSEO). Our members believe that a merger between SASA and SSEO would be beneficial to the association as well as the industry. The objective of this merger is to create a stronger, larger and more relevant industry body that will continue to benefit, not only the security industry as a whole, but also the consumers of security products and services. No doubt this will go a long way in driving greater compliance, integrity and unity.
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