Mine security forces ready to open fire

Private security with guns at the ready at Lonmin’s Karee mine in Marikana.(Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Private security with guns at the ready at Lonmin’s Karee mine in Marikana.(Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The private security forces at some of South Africa's mines – increasingly armed with live ammunition as well as rubber bullets – are not quite sure whether they will be facing a greater level of labour unrest in coming months.

But if they do, they will be relying less on the police than they would have before Marikana and be more ready to use deadly force themselves.

Private security managers and operatives – none of whom would speak on the record – this week said they were ready to handle trouble at their operations, but grew either angry or despondent when asked about police readiness.

"Those cops are now so afraid that you can't count on them any more," said a manager of one security service. "They're afraid of the people, because they've seen what they can do, but they're even more afraid of shooting anyone [after Marikana]. I think if things get bad, they'll run away and leave us standing there."

That is one of the reasons security preparations for potential riot situations now place greater emphasis on having live ammunition at the ready, though with less lethal means such as rubber bullets and pepper spray – and keeping security staff safe behind barbed wire.

"You don't want your people to give their lives for an asset," said one manager.
"We always make sure we can protect our security people, so we have always had this theoretical idea that we may have to use sharp bullets. Nobody wants that, but our guys aren't going to stand there and be butchered. If they are forced to defend themselves, we want them to have the tools."

Threat of conflict
Lonmin, which said it used internal security staff, would not speak about its security operations.

Major security providers G4S and Fidelity initially agreed to discuss their tactics and preparation at mines, but never did so.

But others in the business said that Lonmin and others with mines in threat of conflict would be putting more effort into intelligence gathering than before.

"Our information is usually on target, I'd say about 80% of the time," said a gold mine security operator. "The rest is rumour and hearsay, sometimes misinformation. Sometimes things just go to shit and your information doesn't make a difference. I think that's what happened at Marikana. When it goes wrong, you try harder. You don't sit back and say 'no, we can't figure out what is going to happen'. You work your informants harder."

Intelligence on mines normally dealt with syndicates intent on stealing copper cable or precious-metal-bearing ore, security managers said, and tried to identify insiders working with such groups. Those who face illegal mining on their properties also try to recruit informants in surrounding communities for insight into methods and supply lines.

Bad Brad
Keeping an ear on the ground for labour unrest, especially potentially violent protests, is part of the job. Then there is the aspect that involves standing between an angry crowd and a mine shaft or office and praying the rocks will not start flying.

One of the only people associated with mine security who would speak on the record is Brad Wood, once better known as reality TV participant "Bad Brad" and later for his involvement in the killing of a group of alleged illegal miners. That incident ended in charges of murder and prosecutors were disappointed when the high court returned a not-guilty verdict by reason of self-defence for Wood and his four co-accused. After that, he got out of the mining business, Wood said, with few regrets.

"Let me tell you, that was one of the scariest moments of my life," said  Wood of the day when angry mineworkers at the Aurora mine took managers hostage. "You have to be calm and collected, but also a little bit aggressive. You don't want these guys to think you are a pushover and they can do whatever they want.

"You have to be cool, but show a little bit of force. Then you're standing there in front of 3 000 okes and you have a gun and you know that live ammo isn't going to do you any good. It's a losing battle when you are dealing with big crowds."

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165 Read more from Phillip de Wet

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