New law puts restrictions on private security companies in South Africa — and it’s bad news

President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed into law the controversial Private Security Regulation Amendment Bill, which aims to restrict foreign ownership of private security firms.

The bill states that all security firms and manufacturers, importers, and distributors of security equipment must have at least 51% South African ownership.

Okkie Terblanche of the Democratic Alliance has made it clear that the DA does not support the bill.

“The devastating riots and anarchy in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng have exposed once and for all the many and varied shortcomings of the South African Police Service (SAPS),” Terblanche said.

“Not only were SAPS unable to restore peace and order, they could not protect communities from the violence and residents had to fend for themselves.”

“And now the ANC government is making the private security industry that many residents rely on to protect them, vulnerable.”

Minister of Police at the time, Nathi Mthethwa, said that foreign ownership of private security companies was a threat to national security.

The leader of the Freedom Front Plus, Pieter Groenewald, heavily opposes this argument.

“July’s unrest and riots showed that the biggest threat to the state lies in its own ranks,” he said.

“Even in the draft phase of the Bill, important information about the extent of foreign shareholding and how many job losses would result could not be provided to the Portfolio Committee on Police. No research had been conducted.”

Pieter Groenewald, leader of the Freedom Front Plus

“In addition, the fast-growing private security industry is of the ANC government’s own making seeing as it failed to combat crime and ensure the public’s safety effectively.”

According to the Private Security Industry Regulation Authority’s (PSIRA) 2020/2021 annual report, it registered 83,641 new security officers and 1,884 new security businesses during the April 2020 – March 2021 period.

This indicates a “2% increase in the number of registered active security officers and an 11% increase in the number of registered active security businesses demonstrating the continuous demand for private security services in South Africa.”

Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies, and Gareth Newham, Head of the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme, previously provided insight into the growth of the private security industry in South Africa.

“The growth of the private security industry is directly linked to high levels of crime and violence, along with public perceptions that police officers are unable to provide adequate security,” they said.

They also said that the 2013 Green Paper on Policing contradicts itself by pointing out that private security companies have no special powers beyond those of private citizens.

“It is therefore difficult to see how these companies can be seen to undermine the state’s law enforcement power,” they added.

Ex-Police Minister, Nathi Mthethwa

The Private Security Regulation Amendment Bill was passed by parliament in 2014 despite opposition from the industry that claimed it went against the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Services.

Mthethwa suggested the change was necessary because the line between private security firms and private military organisations was becoming blurred.

The DA had warned that the bill would cause job losses in a sector that employs and protects hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

It indicated that private security companies allow the over-stretched SAPS to focus on regions where violent crime occurs and communities that cannot afford private security.

“If private security firms leave — and some will after this bill is passed — there will be more demand on an already overstretched SAPS,” said Dianne Kohler-Barnard, DA MP.

“In the end it will be the communities with the highest crime rate that will bear the brunt.”

Kohler-Barnard also indicated that embassies had written to parliament expressing concern over the adoption of the bill.

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New law puts restrictions on private security companies in South Africa — and it’s bad news