Durban: Indian-owned private security companies are being investigated for allegedly lending guns to civilians during the unrest in Phoenix.
Lirandzu Themba, the spokesperson for the Police Ministry, said four security companies were being investigated by the SAPS and the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira).
“The companies that were being investigated for their alleged role in the violence that engulfed Phoenix were KZN VIP Security, Royal Protection, Reaction Unit South Africa and Sealen Security,” said Themba.
She said she was unable to comment further on the investigation.
During a media briefing at Inanda police station last Tuesday, Police Minister General Bheki Cele said the SAPS were working closely with Psira.
‘”The team of investigators has seized 152 firearms from four private security companies working in the area. They also seized 112 illegal firearms during police operations in Phoenix.”
He said the seizure of the firearms was within the ambit of the Controls Act. The firearms were sent for ballistic analysis.
“There will be a lot of uphills. For instance, we will find that the guns are legal and belong to a particular company but in the hands of the wrong person. We are going to be tough on the companies who have allowed their businesses to be abused in terms of borrowing firearms out.”
Ravindra Maniklall, a Durban attorney, said he had advised three of the four security companies to hand over their firearms to the authorities.
“The results from the ballistic test is a possible way for them to clear their names. The allegation of the security companies handing over arms to the community has not been brought to their attention.”
Sources close to the security companies said Cele was grappling at straws.
“Guns from some of the security companies were confiscated and taken for ballistic testing as part of the investigation. But none of these security companies gave guns to the community to defend themselves,” said a source.
Another source said it was premature for the minister to mention the names of the security companies without having the results of the ballistics test.
“We have one company which was not even at the scene of the unrest and another who claims they did not fire any live rounds of ammunition. The allegation of these companies arming residents has never been levelled against them. The security companies believe this is just a way to discredit them.”
A third source said the companies have denied having any involvement in the unrest or distributing their firearms.
“They are certain the ballistics reports will prove their innocence.”
The owners of the security companies declined to comment.
Mary de Haas, an independent violence monitor and a social scientist, said the police and Psira would conduct different investigations.
“It is far better for allegations to be properly investigated as it may clear them (the private security company owners) if they are being unfairly accused… If they are operating in terms of legislation, then they have nothing to worry about, unless employees are implicated in criminal acts.”
She said the investigations should not negatively fuel racial tension in the community.
“It should, if done properly, act as a calming influence. It should be seen as part of the justice process. If there are irregularities in investigations, the same applies as in any other investigations. Those being investigated have recourse to the courts and to lawyers. If there are no proper investigations, the allegations about discriminatory targeting will continue and that may fuel further violence or retaliation.”
Karthy Govender, a retired professor of constitutional law at UKZN, said there was a rule that an accused person must not be named before making a first appearance in court.
“If weapons were sent for ballistic testing, he (Cele) ought to have waited for the results. All evidence should have been presented to the National Prosecuting Authority to make a decision on whether to prosecute and for the accused persons to appear in court.
“If the ballistics results come back and say that the weapons were not used, how is he (Cele) going to repair the perpetual damage caused to the companies? You expect people in positions of authority to be extremely cautious. While it may be possible that there is evidence, he should have waited.”
Psira did not comment by the time of publication.
Last month, Psira said it was investigating allegations that certain private security providers (companies and officers) were involved in violent acts during the recent unrest.