With South Africa's police force lacking capacity to manage in a country of over 59 million and where crime and violence is rife, the private security industry is booming. However, experts warn some security firms operate in a grey area of lawfulness (AFP)
The private security sector in South Africa is growing rapidly, providing jobs to over two million people in the African nation that sees unemployment at over 32%.
More than two decades after the country democratized, a sense of insecurity persists in daily life in South Africa, and access to the public good of security has remained astonishingly unequal.
Two of the largest global firms, Allied Universal and G4S, are on the verge of a merger. If it goes through, the new company would be one of the top five private employers in the world.
The dearth of public services, such as security, isn’t new. It dates to South Africa’s apartheid state, and has led to the privatization of other traditionally state-sponsored services, like education.
By the time former President Jacob Zuma resigned in 2018, he was facing 16 different corruption charges ranging from money laundering to corruption to racketeering. Zuma wasn’t a unique case either.
Private businesses have a stronghold in South Africa, and the privatization of goods and services has been a main driver for the post-apartheid economy.
The sociologist Max Weber conceived of the state as the only authority to have “legitimate monopoly on the use of force.”
When Mandela assumed power in 1994, there was an initial push for welfare-oriented economic reform. But after only two years, the social welfare program was abandoned for a neoliberal initiative called the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy.
The stark legacy of racial oppression in South Africa makes the consequences of security privatization palpable, as adequate protection continues to fall along racial lines.
In the United States, private security officers outnumber the public police by nearly 2 to 1, with 1.1 million private security guards to 665,000 public police officers in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
G4S, a multinational security firm based in the U.K., is responsible for policing a number of U.S. embassies around the world.
At some universities, college cops attend city police academies and are deputized as regular police. But most rent-a-cops get just a few hours of rudimentary training.
Racial profiling by the police is a common occurrence in many countries, and the racialized constructions of threats underlying such policing practices can often be traced to histories of colonialism and slavery.
Kingston, Jamaica's capital, has over two hundred registered security companies, employing some twenty thousand guards, although the sector is dominated by around a dozen large companies.
Many post-colonial contexts are characterized by what has become known as “plural policing”, in which a range of non-state security forces collaborate and compete with the formal state police.
The colonial state often actively encouraged alternative agents of policing, “recognizing that it did not have the resources or legitimacy to effectively control the territories they claimed”.
In the Caribbean, the history of policing is inseparable from the institution of plantation slavery and its aftermath.
In the early 20th century, concerns in Jamaica and Britain over anti-colonial agitators directed the attention of colonial police forces towards political threats.

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