COPS AND PRIVATE SECURITY IN UNHOLY ALLIANCE
Residents up in arms as collaboration goes awry, with ‘racist’ private guards taking on police roles
A private security company collaborating with a police station in Mpumalanga is wreaking havoc in the small town of Mashishing (formerly Lydenburg), where its security guards are accused of taking over police officers’ duties of arresting, detaining and even charging suspects.
Residents of Thaba Chweu Local Municipality claim that the employees of Phoenix Security even stop and then search cars without authorisation. They allege the security guards target and harass black people, particularly at night, and describe the company’s operations as reminiscent of the former apartheid regime’s influx control laws – referring to the notorious restrictions of movement imposed on black people during apartheid by limiting their entry into urban areas.
“Phoenix runs operations during the night to drive blacks out of town,” said Mandla Mohlala (26), a resident in Mashishing.
Mpumalanga police denied that the security company had taken over their work.
However, City Press has seen photos of Phoenix security guards sitting behind the counter at the town’s police station, filling in documents. Another photo showed their van with a suspect in the back being driven to the police station.
Mohlala said the security guards arrested and detained him in police cells on June 2 – a Friday night. They had flicked their van’s lights, indicating that he should stop. He was suspicious of their motives and stopped only once he had arrived at a filling station.
He said the guards told him that he was under arrest. When he refused to climb into their van, they called a senior white police officer, who helped them shove Mohlala onto the van and take him to the police station.
“They put me into a police cell and later drove me to a hospital for my blood sample to be drawn to test my alcohol level,” Mohlala said.
“All along, police were there, but these guys did everything. I was released early the next morning and was told that I had been charged with reckless driving, resisting arrest and driving under the influence of alcohol.”
Mohlala is scheduled to appear in court on September 4. He said he was receiving legal advice and planned to sue the police.
Mohlala’s arrest was captured on a cellphone video recording that City Press has seen. There were four Phoenix vehicles and one police sedan at the Caltex filling station. He was taken away in the security company’s van.
“I’m going to f*kken lay charges. They are racists,” he is heard and seen shouting from the van.
Another resident, Philly Mankgane, said the Phoenix Security guards had also been raiding taverns and harassing patrons.
“They go with one black police reservist. The rest are white. On weekends, they behave as if they are traffic cops – stopping drivers and demanding their licences,” Mankgane said.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi denied that Phoenix Security had taken over the police’s work.
“According to my information, we still have the Lydenburg SA Police Service, which is managed by police only and not a security company. No one gave a security company authority to take over the police’s work,” Hlathi insisted.
“Any person can perform a citizen’s arrest. However, such an arrest will be completed at the police station. No one can charge or take a statement from a suspect other than a trained police official,” he added.
Phoenix Security director Jandre Stander said his company had been helping the police as part of a crime prevention strategy called Project Thunderstorm. He said they were considering halting their work because of unfair criticism.
“We have been attacked on social media, and police have said nothing. We are no longer going to help,” Stander said.
“The project is registered with the police and we were helping to fight crimes such as drug dealing and the illegal possession of firearms.”
A black police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said black officers were excluded from the operations involving Phoenix.
“We are surprised when the Phoenix people go behind the counter. The station management covers up for all their wrongdoing,” he said. TALK TO US Do you think it is a good thing for police stations to collaborate with private security companies to fight crime? Can they work without discriminating against people due to race? SMS us on 35697 using the keyword SECURITY and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50