SA’S MAJOR SECURITY COMPANIES GREW THEIR BUSINESSES BY 30-40% IN THE ANNUS HORRIBILIS THAT WAS 2020 – NSA Global’s, Rory Steyn looks at how crime and criminals took advantage of the COVID-19 environment in South Africa.

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, had it right when he said, “Change is the only constant.” And most new year messages contained wording to the effect that, “2021 can only be better, let’s just forget 2020.” I think Heraclitus would’ve been amazed if he were able to look around today.  Here’s a small sample of today’s headlines from the world of news, economics and of course, security:

  • Trump is gone! There’s still plenty on that…;
  • On his first day in office, President Biden announced that the USA would re-join the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The point being that climate change and national security are inextricably linked; the nexus already impacts economies, as well as water, energy, and other critical resources; [1]
  • Russia is jailing her critics, 5G internet speed and a second undersea cable will bring faster (and hopefully more affordable) internet access to Africa;
  • The COVID-19-induced ban on tobacco spawned (or strengthened) the illicit tobacco trade to the extent that two in every three cigarettes sold in South Africa today, are of the illegal variety;[2]
  • “The path of the pandemic will be the deciding factor for the economy this year, with load-shedding and the fiscal crisis coming a close second. “Economic crisis results from government response to health disaster: regulations aimed at saving lives brought a loss of income.”[3]
  • “The coronavirus pandemic may no longer be spreading exponentially in the UK, according to government data suggesting the country’s third lockdown is working.”[4]
  • “In the race to get as many people [in South Africa] as possible vaccinated, the government should leverage the considerable reach of the country’s pharmacists and GPs to amplify the public health facility response,”[5] – this as government dithers on the ordering and procurement of vaccines.

    “If we stop learning today, we stop teaching tomorrow,”[6] to which Einstein added that, “Once you stop learning you start dying.”

    In a conversation with a respected industry colleague this week, I learned that many of SA’s major security (read guarding) companies grew their businesses by 30-40% in the annus horribilis that was 2020. So what did we learn?

    Well, firstly we confirmed that crime and criminals are essentially opportunists. As online shopping mushroomed while people stayed at home, criminals targeted delivery vehicles. of all sizes. They also contrived new and imaginative cyber-crimes and online scams to loosen people’s grip on their hard-earned cash. When thinly stretched police resources were given new priorities, such as protecting our beaches from COVID-spewing surfers, street criminals began to target the elderly queuing for pensions or relief packages and other soft targets such as any cell phone that they could lay their hands on while our citizens went about their daily routines.

    Police brutality, murder and femicide; to name but three categories of violent crime, all spiked during our lockdown. So did farm attacks.[7] There was (legitimate) concern over an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) as people were forced to stay indoors, even as liquor sales were initially banned (twice) and then restricted. “Frontline” medical professionals told us that the emergency units at our hospitals were much quieter over weekends compared to when alcohol was freely available. So that worked.

    The question that I ponder is whether the policing and private security sector as a whole was agile enough to respond to all this COVID-induced change. Was training adapted? Were we proactive and creative in our tactics, or did we merely resort to type and default to the usual reactive responses?

    It would be a shame if the only consequence for policing and the security industry post COVID-19 (whenever that is) is that we learned little to nothing, that we just carried on as we always did and that we remained only responsive without truly thinking and strategising how to be and how to do better.

    [1] The Soufan Group

    [2] Businesslive

    [3] Businesslive

    [4] Bloomberg.com

    [5] Daily Maverick

    [6] Howard G Hendricks

    [7] https://www.enca.com/news/farm-attacks-spike-during-lockdown

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