Security in South Africa vs. the UK: Key Differences and Insights from the Front Lines

south africa security v uk

We returned from the sunnier climes of Joburg and Cape Town, South Africa (SA) two weeks ago.

Many people ask what it is like and whether their security is different. Apart from the weather, the wild animals and load shedding, the differences are vast.

SA is a nation that thinks we are soft in the West and spends too much time on the ‘politics’ rather than dealing with the subject at hand. The term ‘woke’ springs to mind! For example, our SA team think we are strange to have a dedicated EDI board, regular meetings, social posts and news stories, including ‘women in security’. In the UK, 5% of our employees are women; in South Africa, it’s over 40%.

In the words of our MD in SA, “We just treat everyone equally and with respect. That’s just what happens”. It is interesting to hear these views from people living and breathing through apartheid.

It’s not just the ‘politics’ that are different. The security industry is very different. Within the Western world, wages are much higher, labour is hard to find, and in general (personal view), our work ethic is different from in SA.

They must work to survive, and they aren’t reliant on any support from others. If they don’t work, they don’t eat. Our officers are paid a good salary in SA, which equates to about £2 per hour. However, their cost of living for food and essentials isn’t that different. Cars, tech, and luxury items are more expensive than ours. Yes, it’s relative – houses are cheaper, but at £2 per hour, many people don’t have a car, own a home, or have any luxuries.

So, what does this mean for security? Well, officers can’t drive, so they tend to use our collection vehicles that drive into townships and take them for their shifts. They don’t have smartphones, so apps and data are a luxury, meaning simple book-ons or AI’s are challenging to undertake. Our area and regional managers get the bus to conduct site visits. Everything is a lot tougher just to mobilise contracts.

Interestingly, respect from the public still exists when guards are deployed. Offenders don’t create ASB or abuse staff or officers. Yes, they steal, but if you look at the stats we produce, nearly all the stolen items are essential foods, not luxuries, so that they can survive – it’s not greed. So, when I hear in the UK – ‘it’s the cost of living crisis’, think again, look at what is stolen in the UK: perfume, coffee, gems, watches, vapes, alcohol, cosmetics, luxury clothing etc. Some people steal baby food and essentials, but is it the majority?

One significant difference is the ‘cash’. Offenders and those desperate want cash, so CIT, cash offices and tills are a target. The criminals are armed; subsequently, most security officers must be too. Usually, with non-lethal weapons that utilise compressed gas to fire, .68 calibre kinetic rounds or chemical irritant projectiles that can incapacitate a threat from up to 20 meters away.

From a physical aspect of a site, they must be anti-grind, anti-ram, and anti-gunshot proof – shutters, doors, glass, and safes are to a higher standard than we see in the UK.

Tech is a different story. Under BRICs (grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the question over certain manufacturers isn’t a ‘thing’. Chinese manufacturers, including Hik and Dahua, are the preferred manufacturer. Therefore, all our instals tend to be Hik, utilising HIK Central Pro. But because labour is affordable in SA, the ROI on tech is only sometimes there, so introducing AI features is longer on the road map.

On the flip side, introducing fog generators such as Smoke Screen is essential to stop robberies and burglaries.
The considerable advantage SA and our operation have in the UK is the availability of top talent. Put this alongside the POPI act, SA’s equivalent to GDPR (virtually identical), a control room’s design, build and staffing is more straightforward.

Top management, controllers and security technicians are plentiful, meaning we can employ highly educated licenced staff to run our GSOCs where, in the UK, we struggle. Then, when you consider the ROI on this form of GSOC, the cost to the customer is around a third of what it would cost to be in the UK. Hence, many of our Western customers chose the compliant SA option to monitor their sites. Our GSOC in Joburg and Cape Town are like stepping into UK territory.

The staff are trained to UK standards, learn our terminology and slang, have everything British on the screens and work to GMT, even drinking Yorkshire tea from bone china and dipping ginger nuts in!

It’s a country that is not only beautiful but offers vast growth opportunities for communities and businesses. You must be mindful that the infrastructure isn’t unreliable, and corruption is rife. You must be on your toes and have a team that you can trust and depend on, especially when operating daily over 8000 miles away.

To summarise, there are some key differences between security in South Africa versus the UK due to variations in regulation, training, roles, and risk levels:

  • Regulation – South Africa has less stringent regulations around security licensing and mandatory training than the highly regulated UK industry. This leads to inconsistencies:
  • Training – UK security guards must complete SIA-regulated training and testing on legal powers, emergency response, first aid, etc. South African training standards are less uniform.
  • Roles – South African security guards often fill a more comprehensive range of duties, including armed response and cash transit, versus the UK’s focus on access/asset control and protecting people and patrols.
  • Weapons – Many South African companies employ armed guards due to higher risks; this includes lethal and non-lethal arms. UK guards are unarmed.
  • Oversight – Private security oversight bodies like SIA are more robust in the UK than South Africa’s fragmented regulation.
  • Risk Levels – Higher crime rates, political instability and wealth disparity contribute to increased security risks in South Africa versus the UK. (despite what we read in the UK press)
  • Staffing – South Africa relies more heavily on security guards for personal safety due to limited public police resources. Guard-to-population ratios are higher.
  • Technology Integration – UK guards leverage more technology like remote and on-prem CCTV monitoring. South African companies face budget constraints and cheaper labour rates, subsequently more reliant on people power.

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