Security expert Eldred de Klerk said the fact that there was no head of security was an ’excuse’ and that the public should expect professional service from those entrusted with the safety of an important national asset. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
Security expert Eldred de Klerk said the fact that there was no head of security was an ’excuse’ and that the public should expect professional service from those entrusted with the safety of an important national asset. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Parliament fire: Parliament takes flak for failing to appoint security head for past 5 years

By Rafieka Williams Time of article published Jan 11, 2022

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Cape Town - Without a head of security for the past five years, Parliament has come under fire for failing to appoint someone following a security breach which led to the fire that decimated the National Assembly and Old Assembly buildings.

Security experts have said that the lack of accountability at the highest level has amounted to inefficiency in security.

Parliament’s former head of security, Zelda Holtzman, now the Tshisimani Centre’s executive director, was fired in 2017 but reached a settlement in which Parliament dropped charges of insubordination.

On Monday she said: “I don’t think security is under threat, the tools of security are obvious, simple and straightforward, but how we are failing is important. I think it would be an indication of the state of our democracy and security as a reflection of that.

“If Parliament’s administration saw Parliament, the building and its assets as not only symbolic but as a historic and important building that houses the ideals of the nation, then they would make sure that the asset was protected,” Holtzman said.

Institute for Security Studies’ Jackie Cillers said South Africans should be worried that a mere citizen was able to breach Parliament’s security.

“The problem is a lack of oversight and accountability coming from the top. We can see how the efficiency of our security agencies has declined over the years, looking at crime trends and confidence in the police, and that is a result of poor consequence management and cadre deployment of loyal individuals to senior positions within the government and a lack of stability. Instead of promoting competent and capable security officials, we appoint loyal cadres to a particular faction,” Cilliers said.

He added: “South Africa is in a difficult spot but we must be careful not to create impressions of a grand conspiracy where incompetence and lack of political leadership is at fault.”

Security expert Eldred de Klerk said the fact that there was no head of security was an “excuse” and that the public should expect professional service from those entrusted with the safety of an important national asset.

“Every time anybody is entrusted in a professional capacity, they should be of professional standard. Security staff are professionals – they are graded, they are competent and they are employed. Therefore we have every expectation that they deliver services regardless of whether they have a supervisor or a manager.

“We can say that there has been a drop in service standards but surely it’s not the purview of one person to uphold standards in Parliament,” De Klerk said.

Policing expert Ziyanda Stuurman disagrees with this view and said that the security breach is a direct consequence of the failure to appoint a head of security.

“I think we’re really seeing the consequences of Parliament not having a permanent head of security since 2017. It's an incredibly crucial role and filling that position has been neglected.

“I think these are very worrying but obviously natural consequences of someone not being there to make sure that security was in fact performing at its highest level.

“I think there is the appearance that Parliament is working well but very clearly that several key roles weren’t filled, which meant that key upkeep work wasn’t fulfilled.

“This unfortunately led to the cascading number of incidents that shouldn’t have happened,” Stuurman said.

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