BN@10: Ian Cameron on private security, El Salvador, IPID and SA citizens taking back their streets

In a detailed discussion involving Ian Cameron, Herman Mashaba, and the BizNews Community, various aspects of crime, policing, and security in South Africa are addressed. The conversation includes insights into books that shed light on organised crime, the overwhelming role of private security firms, and the inefficiency of the police force. The debate also explores the contrasting approaches to policing in El Salvador, and the participants consider how South Africa might achieve similar results while maintaining the rule of law.

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Edited transcript of the final section of Action Society’s Ian Cameron’s keynote to the BizNews 10th birthday celebration, where he fielded questions from delegates.

Alec Hogg: While we’re waiting for questions, I can refer you to two really good books on the subject. The first is called ‘Illicit’ by Moises Naim. He was once the Minister of Trade and Industry in Venezuela before Chavez took over. Venezuela, you might know, was once the fourth highest GDP per capita country in the world. Now it’s probably the fourth lowest after Chavez’s takeover. ‘Illicit’ opened my eyes to organised crime, which operates as a parallel structure to the corporate world. It’s as big as that. The other book that opened my eyes to this subject is ‘Freakonomics’. These two classics expose the criminal world as a business, like the ones we know, in every way except that they openly break laws.

Ian Cameron: And ‘Give us more guns’ from Mark Shaw is another good one. It details how the police funded or gave guns to gangsters on the Cape Flats.

BizNews Community Member: Thanks, Ian. I completely agree with you. The current police force is completely incompetent, with issues similar to complaints against the police. They don’t have the action orientation or access to resources. Detectives are overwhelmed with cases, and they lack basic necessities like computers and working vehicles. My question is, to what extent has private security stepped in? Rumours suggest there are more private security officers than police. Is that true?

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Alec Hogg: It’s not a rumour; the latest number I saw was 600,000 private security personnel.

Ian Cameron: There are around 190,000 SAPS members, but yes, private security is 3 to 4 times bigger. It has filled the gap. But there are challenges, especially with regulation, like in the Cape Flats, where gang bosses can legally get firearms. It’s a very easy way, but private security is a massive game changer for us in South Africa. Many people say it’s wrong, but things would be much worse without them. We need to salute the good security companies.

Herman Mashaba: Ian, I wanted to get your view on the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) as an organ of state. In my experience, they’re part of the problem. For example, a station commander sexually abused police officers, and when reported, the matter wasn’t taken seriously. Or cases involving illegal immigrants in serious crimes go unaddressed. I see IPID as just another wing of the criminal syndicate in our country. What’s your view on this?

Ian Cameron: Thank you, Herman. Some people think the Hawks are special, but many of them come from regular police duty. They’re not always effective, especially when politicians are involved. Regarding IPID, we want it to be a Chapter Nine institution and be completely independent. Although I had a good experience with them in one instance, they’re pretty toothless without oversight and follow-up. If we don’t have an independent structure, we are centralising power, and it becomes one big communist police service.

BizNews Community Member: You mentioned El Salavador. How did they do it?

Ian Cameron: El Salvador? I haven’t been able to read up enough on the technicalities, but in El Salvador, they militarised large parts of the police. People might criticise me for saying that, arguing it’s against human rights. However, in South Africa, the problem I see is that criminals often have more rights than citizens. In Stellenbosch, there have been at least ten or eleven cases in the last two months where illegal immigrants received free bail after being in custody for three years. This happened because the Department of Justice didn’t pay the translators for court. El Salvador clamped down on gang kingpins, arresting them in masses. They built a patriotic feeling around policing, and it’s contagious. They took a no-nonsense approach, similar to what we had with the anti-gang unit started by General Lincoln in the Cape Flats, which initially made a big impact.

Read more: BN@10: Crime activist Ian Cameron – Corporate SA has failed us; its involvement with ANC won’t improve things

BizNews Community Member: It’s interesting that you mentioned Bukele in El Salvador, where he wrestled control of the government and changed the Constitution. He refers to himself as the dictator of El Salvador. Achieving results like this is a messy business. How in South Africa do you think we could have the will, the people, and maintain the rule of law to achieve something similar?

Ian Cameron: I want to use JP Smith as an example to show that you don’t need to change the Constitution or break the law to enforce it. You can do it the right way. We just need the political will. An active civil society can put pressure on officials, and we can reclaim our space without breaking the law. Look at examples in the Cape Flats where community involvement cleaned up a block, or how Parkview in Johannesburg was reclaimed after 1994. We don’t necessarily need dictatorship moves to get the job done.

Alec Hogg: I remember in Parkview, just after 1994, the criminal syndicates had taken advantage of the vacuum in the South African police service. But slowly, as the police got its act together again, the community reclaimed the area. It’s a very interesting point.

BizNews Community Member: May I suggest and ask you, would you support the need for voter education or voter qualification? In other words, like a driver’s license, people should be educated to vote for the best candidate. How would you respond to that?

Ian Cameron: I’m by no means an expert on that, but I believe the education on this part is pretty basic. We need to expose criminality and make people aware of how it affects them. The challenge is that many have become so hopeless that they’re easily swayed by false promises during elections. I don’t have the perfect answer, but we must continue to expose wrongdoing in government and do what we can to reach those communities.

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