Crime has always been a hot topic with South Africans. Any casual gathering of friends, family or colleagues will inevitably include a conversation about crime experienced recently by someone you know, or about what new security upgrades one needs to make in one’s home. These stories either empower us with information to better protect our loved ones, or they leave us feeling paranoid and vulnerable to criminals.
Last week Stats SA released its Victims of Crime Survey that confirmed that we, South Africans, live in fear of crime eventually affecting us directly. Even if the official numbers show that house robberies have “declined sharply” over the last year, that hasn’t in any way changed our perception that there is a war being waged in our suburbs between those who have something to protect, and those who are trying to get to those things by any means necessary. It all boils down to the fact that South Africans do not feel safe in their homes.
It is the perceived soaring levels of crime in our suburbs that has fuelled the exponential growth of the private security industry. Since many South Africans feel they cannot depend on the police to assist in times of need, ordinary citizens have taken it upon themselves to seek alternative security measures. Although recent studies have not been done to compare private security industries globally, at the last count in 2011, South Africa was among those countries sporting the biggest private security industries in the world, alongside India, China, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and Japan. Considering that our private security industry has grown rapidly since then, we can safely assume that we are still among the world leaders.
On release of the Victim of Crime Survey on 14th February 2017, statistician-general Pali Lehohla announced that South Africans spend R45 billion a year on private security measures – compared to R30 billion that the government allocates to SAPS. Lehohla also shared that 50% of all households in South Africa make use of physical protection at home, and 11.4 % of households employ private security firms. He added that households upgrading security measures like walls, razor/electric fencing and buying increasingly aggressive dogs increased from 49% in 2011 to 51.2% in 2016. With all these measures taken, have we become prisoners in our own homes?