By Angela Quintal
National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi has never been a fan of private security companies.
Some of them, he has said in the past, are nothing more than vigilante groups and he has criticised their use by affluent communities.
It has also concerned him that they have more "men and women under (small) arms than the South African police and the South African National Defence Force" combined.
However, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula disclosed in parliament on Tuesday that the South African Police Service is spending a whopping R3,8-million a month, or R45-million a year, on private security companies.
A total of 145 police premises countrywide have contracted private security firms. These include police stations, police headquarters in Pretoria at R186 637 a month, VIP protection offices in Pretoria and Cape Town, the Commercial Crime Unit in Johannesburg, several training colleges and even a shooting range in Graaff-Reinet.
Nqakula said there were two contracts for security services, which would expire in March next year. More than 20 private security companies were involved, including one called the Die Hard Youth, contracted to the police's Crowd Management Unit in Hazyview at a cost of R15 070 a month.
Other companies include Chubb Protective Services, Protea Security, Anchor Security, Impala Security, Secuforce, Security Wise and Coin Security. The average cost was about R30 000 a month.
The minister disclosed this information in a written reply to a parliamentary question from Democratic Alliance MP Roy Jankielsohn.
"In light of this fact," asked Jankielsohn in a media statement, "how can the public be expected to have confidence in the SAPS?"
Jankielsohn said that because the government had failed in its responsibility to resource the SAPS properly, "our country's official protectors cannot even protect themselves from criminals".
"There is clearly little hope for the average citizen to secure him/ herself against the onslaught of violent criminals if even the VIP Protection Service has to rely on private security companies for protection," he said.
"Furthermore, the fact that millions of rands are being spent on private security companies means that precious resources are being diverted from where they are most needed, which is to take the fight to criminals on the street," he said.
"If the government had prioritised the proper resourcing and funding of the SAPS, this ridiculous situation would never have been able to develop."
"In order for the government to restore public faith in the SAPS, it needs as a matter of urgency to ensure that the SAPS is afforded sufficient resources to protect itself and the citizens it polices."
However, the SAPS has denied that it hires private companies to guard its members or its premises.
Police spokesperson Lazarus Tlomatsana said these companies dealt only with access control to premises, freeing up police to do the job they were trained to do.
Some of this access control was 24 hours a day, such as at police stations, while some firms merely did access control during office hours, such as at police headquarters.
Tlomatsana said there had been a brouhaha in the past about the wastefulness of using trained police officers to do access control.
Mpumalanga safety and security spokesperson Mpho Gabashane on Tuesday said the SAPS's aim was "to have all 1 200 police stations in South Africa protected by private security companies".
The province has put out a tender for a private security company to guard 13 police buildings and compounds so as to free up police officers for police work.
In Pretoria, more than 100 police buildings are already under the protection of private security firms.
Nqakula is overseas and could not be reached for comment. His spokesperson said the ministry would be in a position to respond to media enquiries on Wednesday.