Durban - The eThekwini Municipality is speeding up plans to create its own VIP bodyguard unit that will consist of military veterans, in the hope of saving ratepayers R8 million a year.
The city, which currently outsources VIP guards – to protect 28 councillors – to a private security company at a cost of R36m a year, said the decision was part of its “austerity measures” to reduce security costs.
It comes as several VIP guards employed by Sharks Protection Services downed tools demanding better wages last week.
They claimed that they were only paid R10 000 a month, while the city paid their company R70 000 a month for their services.
When they returned to work, the guards said they had been given termination letters by Sharks Protection Services, with the company claiming that their contract with the city had been terminated.
Opposition councillors, while welcoming the city’s decision to employ in-house VIP guards, said first preference had to be given to guards from Sharks Protection Services, and not military veterans, who they say were dominated by ANC military veterans, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).
eThekwini Municipality spokeswoman, Tozi Mthethwa, said the city planned to hire 96 VIP guards.
She said the city would require a once-off capital funding of R1.3m to purchase 96 guns, 96 bullet-proof vests and two vehicles.
Mthethwa said the process of engaging in sourced security guards would consider the proposals in the city’s draft Military Veterans policy, which sought to employ military veterans.
In addition to VIP guards, the city awarded security contracts worth about R500m for a 14-month period which began in July 2014 and expired in September.
“The municipality has been criticised for its high security bill. This has also been a grave concern to the city leadership, hence this bold step that the city has taken to reduce costs,” she said.
Mthethwa said the city was preparing the specifications for a new security tender, as the 60 new former military veterans that have joined the city are insufficient.
“The engagement process will follow the required security cluster processes, including police clearance.
“This is being done prior to the employment of security personnel.
“Further to this, the municipality is engaging with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority to guide us in cases where military veterans are found to have criminal records,” she said.
Mthethwa said the cost spent on security was justified as the guards and companies contracted to the city protected city assets worth billions of rands.
Security guards also escorted council employees, such as those from the electricity unit, who often need protection when disconnecting illegal connections.
DA caucus leader, Zwakele Mncwango, said the party had been calling for the city to insource its security for months.
He said despite the party’s calls for the city to table a report at the executive committee on in-house security, the city manager, S’bu Sithole, was yet to do so.
“We are very concerned that the city says that they want MK veterans to fill these posts, as they only have a draft policy on military veterans, which is out for public comment. What will happen if the public rejects their draft policy, but the city has already employed these MK guys? We still want to know how the city employed 120 MK veterans already, without following due process. The guards who are currently looking after the councillors should be given the jobs first,” he said.
Mncwango said many councillors, especially those from the opposition, would not be comfortable with MK veterans as bodyguards.
Mdu Nkosi, the IFP’s caucus leader, agreed.
“There are guards who have been with councillors through very difficult situations and have developed good relationships with them. They need to be given preference for these jobs, and be integrated into the city. It seems to us as if you are not an MK veteran, you are not important. We will fight until the very end to ensure that that does not happen. You cannot just throw the current guards away,” he said.
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