A security guard on duty outside a luxury Johannesburg hotel. Photo: AFP/Fabrice CoffriniIn a Mail & Guardian article Ernst Roets, deputy chief executive of Afrikaner civil society organisation AfriForum, has claimed that “the private security industry in South Africa is the largest in the world”. He did not provide a source for this claim.

Given that many South African houses and business are wired with alarms and surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire or electric fences, Roets’s perception is a popular one. Yet, as Africa Check has reported previously, available data shows this claim to be false – whether measured in absolute numbers, number of private security personnel per 100,000 citizens or the number of private security personnel compared to police.

This is according to the most recent and comprehensive international comparison of the private security industry, conducted in 2011 by the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. The report contains data on the private security industries in 70 countries around the world.

Although it isn’t a straightforward exercise to compare countries due to  variations in reporting practices, the survey did show that South Africa’s private security industry is dwarfed by that of India, where 7-million people were employed by security companies there in 2011. China was second with 5-million and Russia next with 800,000.

Looking at ratios, South Africa was placed fourth in the category of number of private security personnel per 100,000 people, as well as the number of private security personnel compared to police. Guatemala in Central America topped both lists.

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