Posted on January 9, 2024

As Police Lose the War on Crime in South Africa, Private Security Companies Step In

Mogomotsi Magome, Associated Press, January 7, 2024

Thamsanqa Mothobi was going about his life in Johannesburg when he was carjacked and taken to an informal settlement where robbers accessed his mobile banking apps.

“They had guns and demanded the PIN codes for my apps. They increased the withdrawal limits in my accounts and emptied them. I was only released in the early hours of the morning,” the father of three said, adding that his one comfort was that he was not killed.

It’s an all-too-common story in South Africa, a country that in the past year has seen an average of 75 killings and 400 robberies with aggravating circumstances every day, according to official statistics. While it may be Africa’s most developed country, it also has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world.

Experts have warned that the South African police are losing the battle against crime — and that has led those citizens who can afford it to turn to a booming private security industry.

“It’s not getting better, it is getting worse,” said Anton Koen, a former police officer who now runs a private security firm that specializes in tracking and recovering hijacked and stolen vehicles. “The murder rate is the highest in 20 years, violence is getting worse because our justice system seems to be failing us, the public of South Africa.”

There are more than 2.7 million registered private security officers in the country, according to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority, making South Africa’s security industry one of the largest in the world. That compares with fewer than 150,000 police officers for the country’s 62 million people.

Private security companies earn a monthly fee for patrolling neighborhoods and providing armed response to their clients’ alarm systems. They also offer tracking and car recovery services, which often results in them getting involved in high-speed chases of car thieves and hijackers.

Figures from PSIRA show that the number of security businesses in South Africa grew by 43% in the past decade, while the number of registered security officers has increased by 44%.


Even those who are lucky enough to have private protection can’t always be sure of safety.

In November, a South African government minister and her bodyguards were held up at gunpoint on a highway and robbed of money and their cellphones. The two bodyguards were made to lie on the ground while the robbers ransacked their vehicle and stole their police-issued guns.


{snip} There were 27,494 killings in South Africa in the year to February 2023, compared with 16,213 in 2012-2013. South Africa’s homicide rate in 2022-2023 was 45 per 100,000 people, compared with a rate of 6.3 in the United States and around 1 in most European countries.