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Call to rein in ‘trigger-happy’ guards linked to Phoenix killings

Heavy police and SANDF presence outside Verulam court.Suspects are appearing in connection with deadly unrest including killings in Phoenix. File Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

Heavy police and SANDF presence outside Verulam court.Suspects are appearing in connection with deadly unrest including killings in Phoenix. File Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 9, 2021


DURBAN - HUMAN rights and Violence Monitor Mary De Haas has called on the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSiRA) to amend and tighten its regulations, especially the carrying of lethal weapons by security guards.

She was reacting to the news that PSiRA was investigating 15 security companies and 10 guards who allegedly played a role in the Phoenix killings in July which may have constituted the violation of PSiRA’s code of conduct.

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PSiRA had warned security companies that it would impose a fine of R1 million, a five-year suspension of the company’s operating certificate and its deregistration should the court find that security companies were involved in the July unrest in Phoenix.

KwaZulu-Natal police are investigating allegations that security companies based in Phoenix released firearms to their guards to protect property and malls from being looted in the unrest.

PSiRA spokesperson Jan Sambo said they were investigating 15 security companies and 10 security guards for breach of the PSiRA code of conduct. Sambo said the number may increase while police investigations continued. He said police have confiscated 59 guns belonging to security companies that were undergoing ballistic tests.

“The investigation is at an advanced stage. We are in the process of issuing suspension letters to security guards pending the completion of the investigation. Once we are done with the investigations and we have served companies and guards with charges we will inform the media because there is huge public interest in the issue,” said Sambo.

He added that if found guilty, the sanctions would be imposed against the respective companies. He said the body was working closely with the special police task team. Sambo explained that the police were investigating criminal offences while PSiRA was looking into the breach of its code of conduct.

“It is alleged that companies allowed security guards to take firearms home which is a serious breach. Guns must be kept on the premises of the license holder.”

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De Haas said she was happy the body was investigating the security companies’ role because she had written to a friend in Parliament, asking him to take up this issue with PSiRA after she had learnt that there were law enforcement agencies allegedly involved.

She was concerned about the guns that security companies were allowed to carry and called on PSiRA to improve the implementation of regulations. “I believe they should not be carrying anything more than a handgun unless they are protecting cash in transit …”

Jackie Shandu, leader of the Justice for Phoenix Massacre Victims, said they were not surprised to learn that security companies and guards may have been involved in the killings in Phoenix.

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“We feel vindicated by this information coming out now. We always suspected that these attacks were not carried out by ordinary people but were planned, co-ordinated and executed by people with military training. All we are hoping for is that those responsible are brought to book so that the victims and their families get justice,” said Shandu.

Institute for Security Studies researcher Dr Johan Burger said there could be a number of reasons why security companies could have allegedly been involved. “One reason could be ignorance about their powers or they had a belief that in the midst of emergencies and the absence of police they could intervene with the hope that it would be justifiable.”

Phoenix has been in the spotlight for a number of murder cases opened after the unrest. Police said they have arrested 56 people over the killings.

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Damage to businesses and property was calculated at R15 billion in the province. The July unrest resulted in extensive damage to 161 malls, 11 warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquor outlets or distributors. Over 200 shopping centres were looted and damaged, and 100 malls suffered fire damage.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said a Special Investigation Team, comprising detectives from the national and provincial office, was deployed to KZN to look into the 36 deaths.

“This team has hit the ground running. Fifty-six people were arrested for their alleged role in the racially motivated murders. These arrests have been widely welcomed by the communities of Zwelisha, Bhambhayi and Amaoti where most of the victims live,” he said.

Cele said 359 people died in the unrest that gripped Gauteng and KZN. He said the team was also probing the role of police in the violence and looking closely into the role played by security companies operating in the area.

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