How many security guards vs police officers there are in South Africa – and why things are changing

Data published by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) shows that the country’s private security sector now dwarfs the official police force by a significant margin.

Psira, which acts as the regulator for the price security sector in South Africa, indicates that there are over 2.4 million registered security officers across the country, with just under a million in Gauteng alone. The country is also home to over 11,370 registered security businesses.

However, being a registered security officer does not equate to employment, and Psira’s data shows that far fewer security officers are actively employed (564,540) across the country.

By comparison, the SAPS’ latest annual report shows that a fixed establishment of 182,126 employees. This figure includes both active police officers and administrative staff, as follows:

  • 21,396 commissioned officers;
  • 122,075 non-commissioned officers;
  • 37,840 Public Service Act employees.

These SAPS employment figures effectively give South Africa a police to population ratio of 1:413. By comparison, the ratio of active security guards to South African citizens is closer to 1:106.

Increased regulation 

The size of South Africa’s private security sector has now led to increased regulation, with president Cyril Ramaphosa signing the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Act into law in October 2021.

While the law is yet to come into effect officially, it introduces several new regulations, including minimum conditions of service and minimum training standards. Notably, it also introduces strict regulations around who can own and run security companies in South Africa.

One of the key sticking points is that the Act introduces a 51% South African ownership requirement. It also gives the police minister the power to unilaterally prescribe a different percentage of ownership and control in respect of different categories of a security business if he deems this to be in the interests of the national security of South Africa.

The opposition Democratic Alliance has come out in strong opposition to the regulations, which it warns will lead to further international disinvestment and job losses.

Growing demand for private protection 

A growing number of people are turning to private protection services and bodyguards over a perceived increase in violent crime in South Africa – including kidnappings.

Pierre Gildenhuys, head of forensic investigations at D&K Management Consultants, told radio station CapeTalk that this is not only limited to wealthy South Africans, with an increase in security services enquiries seen across all income bands.

“We are seeing a rise every day in violent crimes and kidnappings taking place. Organised crime syndicates do target wealthier people more often, but there are a lot of kidnappings taking place in rural areas and townships for (a ransom) as little as R2,000 – R5,000,” he said,

“There is no floor on this. Whether you are white, black, Indian, poor or rich – unfortunately, we are all targeted in this regard.”

While recent headlines have drawn attention to these incidents, Gildenhuys said that this problem has continued for a relatively long time in South Africa. However, he said that it is typically gone under the radar as these crimes are not always reported and because people do not trust the South African Police Service (SAPS) to assist in these matters.

South Africa reported a shock increase in crime statistics in Q1 2021/2022, with a significant increase in cases reported across several crime categories.

Police minister Bheki Cele said that the double-digit increase in most crime categories was attributable to the adjusted lockdown levels and distorted crime trends.

The police minister said that while the country had seen a ‘holiday from crime’ during the higher level 5, 4 and 3 lockdowns, the move to lighter restrictions had led to ‘exaggeratedly high’ crime levels.

“While we will not sweep the high and unnatural figures under the carpet, we will instead bring to the fore a holistic picture of comparing the 2021/2022 Q1 crime figures to a ‘normal period’ two years ago where there was no lockdown.”

Read: Major new crime-fighting law planned for South Africa

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How many security guards vs police officers there are in South Africa – and why things are changing