I arrived in JoBurg yesterday from Washington, DC. On the drive from the airport to our hotel in Braamfontein, I was struck by the shear number of gated communities; the barbed wire, the signs advertising security systems. Incredible. And depressing. Its not my first visit to Joburg. I've been here numerous times. It's not that I didn't notice this before it's that my visit to Joburg is primarily to meet with security workers. So security is on mind.
I'm part of a delegation of union leaders, academics and human rights activists investigating Group 4 Securicor. Today I spent a great deal of time talking with Jackie Simpkins from War on Want whose organization in the UK is addressing the root cause of global poverty. I am down with a war on poverty.
Why security? Well, its a huge industry in Africa and its growing. In many ways, the private security industry is both the product of privatization and a response to its consequences, in particular the hollowing out of the state, growing unemployment, and increasing economic insecurity. Its growth is directly tied to the erosion of the state and economy that began in the 1980s -- often under international donor requirements -- and the associated decline of public services, including policing, and a rapid increase in crime. In a context of growing physical security and a weak, often corrupt police forces, Africans are turning increasingly to private solutions.
Why Group 4 Securicor? Its the biggest company on the block -- 82,000 workers in Africa. And, its growing -- mainly by purchasing other African security firms.
Why Southern Africa? Our investigation was prompted by some disturbing incidents. Seems some G4S managers at the airport are still stuck in the apartheid era. They referred to guards as "kaffirs" and "monkeys" In Pretoria guards told us that black workers can't use the same toilet as white guards. White guards are given a key to the toilets and Black guards have to use the toilets at the nearby mall. Maybe Don Imus will look for a job in JoBurg. Maybe Group 4 Securicor is hiring.
So my questions are who are we guarding? What are we guarding people from? Global Poverty. If we addressed the growing disparities between the rich and the poor between the haves and have nots would we need the same level of security? In a global economy, its multinational corporations like Group 4 Securicor that make the rules. We're dancing to their tune. Take the needle off the record. Take the needle off the record...