Wed, Jul 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Fear boosts business for some S African firms

CRIME PAYS Private security companies are a growing industry -- and so are the schools that train the guards


Pride doesn't last long on Jan Boshoff's training ground, as 25 young men and women find out the hard way, their faces flat in the dust after another punishing set of push-ups.

He shouts like a parade-ground sergeant-major, startling the wits out of the rows of frightened initiates. But despite his military manner, this is no army boot camp -- the trainees under his instruction are paying to be bawled at.

They want to be security guards, a rapidly expanding line of work in South Africa, which has one of the world's largest private security industries, and where private police outnumber regular law enforcement officers by about two to one.

"Become a security guard in one week," reads a sign painted on the door of Boshoff's Anti-Crime Force school building in flat, dusty Brakpan, a run-down town about 40km from the center of Johannesburg.

That sounds a good proposition to many of the country's poor, unemployed youth.

The starting salary may only be about 1,000 rand (US$134) a month, but, as hopeful recruit Juliet Abulile says, it is a lot better than unemployment, a national blight affecting more than 40 percent of the workforce.

"Some people do it because they want to fight crime, but others do it because they don't have a job," said Abulile, one of more than 400 students to pass through the Anti-Crime Force school so far this year.

Passport to employment

A three-week course at the school costs 300 rand, and allows graduating students to work as access control security guards, operating gates and front doors.

Further qualifications have a higher price tag, but equip guards for more serious tasks, such as guarding cash in transit, or armed response to residential alarm calls.

Most well-off South Africans employ private security of some sort. Placards and posters outside homes in Johannesburg's richer suburbs advertise contracted security firms as a deterrent, while swing-boom gates block many roads and most company premises.

Their security fears are hardly a surprise. South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and although an official reluctance to dispense statistics clouds the debate, all parties would agree the streets are far from safe.

There were 21,000 murders in South Africa in 2000, compared to Interpol figures of just under 3,000 for Germany, which has about twice the population.

"The police do the best they can ... but here we need the private security industry," said George Morake, director of the Anti Crime Force school.

"The majority of the pupils get jobs ... Since crime doesn't stop, security will always have a business," he added, his bullet-proof vest and holstered pistol making him a slightly daunting figure among the piles of newly-written certificates and enrollment papers in his office.

Private policing

South Africa has more than 4,100 private security companies in the country, up from 3,200 in 1999.

The national Security Industry Regulatory Authority (SIRA) says there are more than 226,600 active guards, compared to total South African Police Service employment of 123,000 in 2001-2002, the latest figures available.

SIRA reckons the industry sees 12 percent growth in human resources every year. There are already hundreds of licensed guard training schools throughout the country, including just under 200 in Johannesburg's Gauteng province, and the regulator approved another 74 last year.

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