SA police battle security guards

Click to follow
"SECURITY guards fighting policemen in the streets," said a Johannesburg office worker wryly. "The criminals must be rolling about laughing."

This week, Johannesburg has seen its worst street violence since the 1994 democratic elections as thousands of security guards, on all-out national strike, have clashed with police.

Tuesday saw the most violent confrontations as thousands of guards defied police and again took to the streets in support of a 12 per cent wage increase. Ten policemen were injured when rioters met rubber bullets with bricks and stones and set vehicles alight.

Earlier, groups of strikers had toured the city centre attacking guards who were still working. One guard, bleeding and his uniform in shreds, had to seek refuge in a police van. The strikers' tactics were certainly violent but with the average security guard taking home less than pounds 100 a month,it was hard not to sympathise with their complaints that they are risking their lives daily for a pittance.

Yesterday, the strikers again defied police to take to the streets for a third day. Officers in armoured vehicles prevented them from gathering in the same huge numbers and body searches resulted in 17 guns being seized from strikers. This time police were ahead of the game and there was less violence.

But the strikers - carrying placards warning policemen to stay away or "there will be civil war" - will be out in force again today after the breakdown of negotiations between employers and unions last night.

Few, if any countries, can boast a private security business as large as South Africa's; and few would want to. In the current crime explosion, the police force is stretched to breaking - and few, if any, companies are without a private security presence.