VIP Protection in South Africa – Understanding the Risks and Mitigating Them
71-year-old actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was recently attacked by a man while attending the Arnold Classic Africa Multisport Festival and Trade Expo in Sandton, South Africa.
Schwarzenegger was apparently in the middle of a Snapchat when a man ran up to him and kicked him in the back. Organiser Wayne Price later said, “The assailant was ‘known to the police for orchestrating similar incidents in the past’ and that Schwarzenegger was ‘fine and still in good spirits.’” The actor confirmed that he had no intention of laying charges.
This incident made national and international news, with video clips taken by attendees on their smartphones, circulating widely.
Working with high-profile VIPs or celebrities is a challenge on its own and anticipating everything that can go wrong, especially in developing countries makes it even more so.
It is not our intention to criticise after the fact, although there are obviously some gaps in the protection planning noticeable in the footage. We weren’t there so can only comment on what we’ve all seen in the media, using our personal experience of leading protection teams.
The point we do wish to make is that VIP protection requires both experience and initiative to be done effectively and properly. We should all put ourselves in the shoes of the protection team working that day and ask what we would’ve done differently:
- An attack on your principal won’t always occur with a weapon. Metal detectors e.g. wouldn’t have made any difference in this case;
- Remember the principle of concentric circles or ‘onion rings’. Someone should’ve spotted the assailant running in and provided advance-warning to the team;
- We know that the Principal is not going to attack himself, so for CPOs to be watching him has no real purpose. We need to be aware of what is happening around us;
- Having a protection team member up on a balcony would’ve been a good position for early-warning. If not, post an advance team protector at the door watching everyone’s back as the principal and escort team walk in past him;
- Everyone on the team, both advance and personal escort, should be equipped with a two-way radio and miked-up with earphones, precisely so that warnings are effectively communicated.
- This could’ve happened to any of us.
South Africa and Violent Crime
South Africa continues to face numerous challenges related to crime and violence more than two decades into its democracy. A major challenge in our country is that of unemployment. South Africa has one of the highest official unemployment rates in the world, with stats showing that over 26% of the country’s population is unemployed. More than half of South Africans live below the poverty line and the country has one of the highest inequality rates in the world, perpetuating social inequality, exclusion and of course crime.
Crime in South Africa remains a serious problem, particularly that of common assault, femicide and vehicle-hijacking. Foreign visitors to the country should, in their best interest be aware of the environment they are about to find themselves in and take precautions.
One of the greatest challenges regarding crime in South Africa, which is different to many countries, is that violent crime really can happen anywhere, it is not restricted to ‘bad areas’. Criminals go to where their targets will be, which includes upmarket residential areas, business districts, industrial areas, hotels, shopping malls etc.
Professional personal security services are considered by many corporations sending visitors to SA, to be a necessity these days. Having a good risk management plan that identifies specific vulnerabilities and risks that are endemic in a country like South Africa, is imperative. Having the right local resources available to monitor and mitigate such risks is invaluable.
Security Planning for VIP Protection in SA
What should one consider when analysing the risks and anticipating what can go wrong in this regional climate.
- ‘Local knowledge is key’: Utilise a professional local security provider;
- Beware of overkill: If proper planning is conducted and the correct logistics (manpower and other resources) are deployed, there is no need for a cast of thousands and you will eliminate 70-80% of the risk;
- What does your principal’s public profile look like? A travelling businessman in almost every instance has a lower public profile than a famous musician; actor or other celebrity.
- Be aware of specific crime trends in the areas to be visited, protests that may be planned over that period etc. by monitoring media reports including social media.
What are the Risks that are Typical in the Region
- The first and most important risk is travelling by road. Therefore, what vehicle is selected, who will drive it and what route options are available, are the most important questions to ask;
- Secondly, armed robberies of stores, residences, hotels etc. do happen so maintain a level of awareness of what is happening around you at all times;
- After that come the obvious risks of crime, fraud scams, medical incidents etc.
- Always have a medic (or medical plan) as part of any protection operation;
- It’s impossible to say what additional measures must be taken to protect clients visiting Africa, as each principal and each visit is unique; so the success lies in the 7 Ps: “Proper Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Performance”;
- Clearly though, it is very important to use a ‘tried and tested’ security provider. The one point that has been made about this specific incident is that the security team were reportedly hired on the criteria of, “must weigh at least 80 kg” and were offered “a free meal and photos with Arnold”! You ain’t gonna get professionals with that approach, you get what you pay for;
Empowering the Client with Knowledge of his Environment
- It’s about managing expectations. Normally this is achieved through the principal’s corporate security heads or protection team so that the client is prepared for who and with what resources he will be supported in Africa. Because of years of bad press, he/she will to some degree at least be concerned about the potential for violent crime in SA:
- Getting their co-operation on being vigilant at all times well in advance is assisted by a proper (and reasonable) pre-departure security briefing. Enlist the assistance of the principal’s security team by providing them also with the dos and don’ts and what to expect when they arrive;
- Do your due diligence on security vendors, e.g. are they experienced, do they have the right manpower and training, ask around the industry and obtain recommendations or referrals.