Raymond Suttner: Who can we trust to do our policing? South African Police Services (SAPS) or Private security?

Some years ago I argued that the private security industry (PSI) should be phased out and the police, assuming them to be in the process of becoming a democratic public institution should be strengthened in conjunction with community policing forums, street committees and other ways of involving the community in securing their own neighbourhoods.It was undesirable in principle to have wealth determine whether or not your life and property were secured.

I argued that it was a problem, in principle, to have the police services outgunned and outnumbered by private security and that this could constitute a risk to national security.  Many who have been drawn into the private security industry are from the former security police and other similar services from the apartheid regime.  I argued that it was undesirable that they have this privileged access to intelligence about the whereabouts of all and sundry.

That most of the PSI is foreign owned also posed a security risk. In the event of any foreign country or any force within the country wishing to undermine a democratic government the PSI was not accountable to democratic structures and could more easily be drawn into assisting such plots.

All that I said then remains valid in principle but the problem we face now is that the SAPS has not been transformed into a democratic arm of a democratic state.  Not only have the democratic qualities enshrined in our constitution been compromised in a range of ways by the current government  (patronage, corruption, failure to bring to justice those committing political assassinations etc etc), but the police have not been a shield protecting the public. All too often the police have in fact been the prime abusers of the public, killing innocent people, shooting as a first resort, often without any legal justification, roughing up people and being compromised by close association with the sectional interests of the government and ruling party of the day.

It is with this sense of ambivalence about PSI that the legislation reported here needs to be considered. The Minister is right to allude to PSI being a threat to national security. But what type of security can we all feel under the umbrella of the current often highly aggressive and abusive police practices that are so prevalent?Those who can afford private services try to buy their safety. Those who cannot live with fear, that is not mitigated by the SAPS


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