Security firms make killing from World Cup

The phone rings endlessly in Kyle Condon’s office. As the World Cup nears, tourists and foreign businessmen spooked by South Africa’s crime rate are calling him to hire bodyguards.

“We have brought in 45 contractors who are being assigned to different projects, but we might have to recruit more,” said Condon, who runs D&K Management Consultants.

“We have increased our revenues and our turnover by about three-fold” thanks to the World Cup, he said.

His clients are spending R2 000 to R4 000 a day, depending on their level of risk, to be accompanied by a man or a woman carrying a nine-millimetre firearm.

Many of the bodyguards are former soldiers or police officers. They’re trained in marksmanship, emergency driving, first-aid, and fastidious planning.

“It’s not about jumping in front of bullets. That’s for movies with Kevin Costner,” Condon said. “What we do: we plan your life for you during your stay. We are a kind of personal assistant.”

His clients, all well-heeled but from varying backgrounds, know that South Africa has one of the world’s highest crime rates, with an average of 50 killings a day.

They call Condon for “peace of mind and convenience”, he said.

Fear of crime isn’t limited to foreigners. Private security services are a mushrooming business in South Africa, posting 13% annual growth since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The 6 400 security firms accredited by the government have a collective turnover of R14-billion ($1,9-billion). That jumps to R40-billion when makers of electric fences, video surveillance and other services are included.

“Crime in South Africa generally increased from 1994 to 2003-2004,” said Gareth Newham, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies.

Crimes that cause fear
“Since then crime has dropped by 24% globally, but certain categories of crime have increased like house robberies, business robberies and car hijacking, and those crimes cause a lot of fear.”

Security companies “use an existing fear to sell their products”.

“People are scared. If they can afford it, they will,” he said.

As a result, many upmarket neighbourhoods resemble bunkers.

Houses are surrounded by tall walls topped with electric fences.

Some streets have checkpoints and many are patrolled by private security firms.

South Africa has 375 000 private security guards, and 180 000 police officers.

Behind the walls, gardens have motion detectors linked to alarm systems and illuminated by spotlights. Windows have metal bars, and doors have multiple locks.

Inside, “panic buttons” let owners alert the security firm to a break-in, while metal gates lock off bedrooms from the rest of the house. Big dogs and hidden safes are also common.

Poorer neighbourhoods use barbed wire, broken bottles and nets on windows to keep intruders out.

“Everyone wants to protect themselves. People have guns, knives, batons,” said Junior Yele, an official at Boa security services, which has won about 20 bodyguard contracts.

But he says there’s a much cheaper solution to avoid criminals.

“The main advice in South Africa is don’t show that you have money, don’t attract attention.” - AFP



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