‘Weapons of war’ on streets

2014-07-01 00:00

MEMBERS of Durban’s most controversial security company — notorious for brandishing “weapons of war” at the roadside — are facing court for two major shootouts in the past week.

Meanwhile, yesterday, KZN’s MEC for Community Safety, Willies Mchunu, called for the taxi industry to be “rid” of their private security enforcers, and requested an investigation into the uses and training behind the often massive firearms they use.

Three members of Blue Ocean Security Services (“Boss”) will face charges of attempted murder tomorrow, after a shootout involving a rival security company near Phoenix.

Another 27-year-old Boss guard faces double murder charges at the Ntuzuma Magistrate’s Court, after an Inanda man, Brian Shozi (29), and another taxi association employee were gunned down in their car last week.

The Durban-based black empowerment company is one of 23 security firms contracted to guard taxi companies’ hotly contested commuter routes in KZN, but Mchunu said violence remained high, and that some companies “stirred” the violence.

Meanwhile, Boss is among a few companies often seen toting heavy-calibre R1 assault rifles in public spaces — from La Lucia beach to the CBD — which even police are no longer being issued, due to the danger of their 7,62 calibre bullets travelling through suspects and even walls to strike bystanders behind. Critics slammed private patrols with R1s as “dangerous” and “highly intimidating”.

The Witness has also seen images of Boss guards showing off their massively powerful .50 calibre sniper rifles, which are believed to be the only such weapons licensed in the country.

Eddie Thompson, a manager at the Taxi Violence Unit, told The Witness: “There is absolutely no legitimate purpose for these heavy weapons on our streets. I’ve seen 30 Boss guys carrying R1s at a stand-off.”

Thompson acknowledged that Boss did have proper SAPS permits for their weapons and enjoyed the trust of “high profile” clients beyond the taxi industry. He said training was a greater problem than the heavy guns: “There is CIT training for cash-in-transit guards and armed response training for response guys, but there is no taxi violence training — the area where you need professional experience more than anywhere else. It’s the guys without the right training or the police backgrounds who tend to be carrying the big weapons.”

He said taxi violence struck on average every third day in KZN, and that it typically involved “a few cowboy [security] companies who have no idea about the rules of engagement”.

Mchunu’s spokesperson, Kwanele Ncalane, said last week’s arrests were merely the latest of a string of unacceptable violent incidents. “We cannot have one sector be a law unto themselves. We have seen private security companies at the forefront of violence, and operating on contravention of the regulator’s rules. The MEC has met with PSIRA (Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority) to assist in rooting out any­one who contravenes, and also to investigate the use and the training behind these high calibre firearms.”

Security cmpanies confirmed that PSIRA officials began inspections of ­everything from firearm permits to uniform compliance in KZN last week.

Mpho Mofikoe, deputy director of PSIRA, confirmed that a survey had been launched into both training and “what possible use companies have to use weapons of war”.

“Firearms are becoming a major issue for us,” she said.

PSIRA’s law enforcement director, Philani Mthethwa, said only four complaints had been registered against Boss in the past five years, but revealed that the company itself was now under criminal investigation: “There are criminal investigations conducted by SAPS against this business. Without being reckless it is safe to mention that these investigations are associated with business involvement in the taxi industry.”

Boss manager Raz Ali said the murder arrest was “an isolated incident”, and criticised the attempted murder arrests of his three members last week.

“If you are being shot at, what are you supposed to do?” said Ali. “We are permitted to discharge firearms in self defence and in the defence of the lives of our clients. The fact is that we have an excellent record in terms of protecting our clients and in reducing violence, with casualties also being very low. We also provide a a level of security for people at taxi ranks who aren’t paying us.”

Ali acknowledged that the firm routinely deployed R1 rifles, but said: “This actually reduces violence — it is a powerful deterrent to criminals to see weapons like that. It is appropriate to deploy them defensively, and when we do, the heavy weapons are always kept in the background. In my opinion it is far more intimidating what the cash-in-transit guys do, rushing past women and children in shopping malls in their full kit.”

Ali admitted that the company had .50 calibre sniper rifles, but said, “We do not deploy those weapons; our guys are not trained to use them”.

SAPS spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said the motive for last week’s double murder “is unknown at this stage”, but said: “The security company’s involvement in taxi related incidents is a concern to the police. The Taxi Violence Task Team are dealing with the matter and there were a number of arrests made where security guards were arrested for crimes related to taxi violence.”

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