20 April 2024 | 10:20 AM

World Cup security shambles

Key Takeaways

Police are investigating claims that sabotage by rival security companies lies behind the massive security guard strikes that rocked the World Cup this week.

The Mail & Guardian has reliably learned that police crime intelligence is probing the possibility that one or more security companies that lost out on the tender to provide protection services to the tournament may have instigated the protests.

The strikes, which prompted the dismissal of workers on Thursday, led to the police taking over the entire security operation at Soccer City and Ellis Park in Johannesburg, Green Point stadium in Cape Town and Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban.

The M&G has further established that:

  • Government will now have to fork out well over R100-million to remunerate police officers who have assumed responsibility for stadium security — an expense supposedly covered by Fifa and the local organising committee (LOC);
  • These police officers, a number of whom are still trainees, may not have the necessary crowd control training needed to protect events like the World Cup; and
  • Stallion Security, the security company whose workers went on strike, lost their international partner, Securitas from Sweden, earlier this year when they pulled out of the tournament, apparently following financial disputes.

The South African Police Service had to step in to protect another Fifa tournament in June last year, after the LOC and Stallion fell out over money shortly before the Confederations Cup was about to start.

At the time the M&G reported that a consortium comprising Stallion, Securitas and local black empowerment company Seana Marena was originally awarded the tender to protect Confederations Cup matches, but withdrew when the LOC offered to pay only R300 for a 12-hour shift.

At the time Stallion chief executive Clive Zulberg confirmed that the company’s offer was considerably more than budgeted for by the LOC.

An M&G source with intimate knowledge of the security plans for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup placed the current problems squarely at the door of the LOC and Fifa.

The source said that at the debriefing with the National Joint Operations intelligence structures and the LOC after the Confederations Cup, “major concerns” were raised.

These included the late signing of contracts between the LOC and private security firms to guard stadiums; the Stallion dispute with the LOC over salaries; and the inadequate training and stadium orientation of security guards.

Said the source: “The thinking at the debriefing was that none of this should be allowed to happen again, but it seems lessons have not been learned.”

According to the Fifa safety guidelines, the match organiser, in this case the LOC and Fifa itself, is responsible for safety at stadiums on the day of matches.

LOC spokesperson Rich Mkhondo refused to acknowledge this, saying: “I will not answer questions about stadium security. Ask somebody else.”

The M&G has learned that Stallion agreed to provide security at South Africa’s four major stadiums for the World Cup at even lower tariffs, culminating in thousands of security guards going on strike this week. Stallion’s tender with the LOC is said to be worth about R60-million.

Although the R190 per 12-hour shift Stallion pays to security guards is higher than the minimum prescribed rate of about R140 per shift, security guards were left with the impression they would be paid more than “normal” rates because of the tournament’s status.

Insiders told the M&G that security guards working at big sporting events like Super 14 rugby matches are paid between R350 and R400 for a three-hour shift.

South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu, whose union represents many of the security guards — even though they are not unionised — said that information from the union’s interactions with workers was that “many of them” were employed on an “ad hoc and casual basis”.

“It seems to be a case of profiteering — many of these guys had no contracts signed or wages stipulated,” said Mahlangu. He added: “The LOC has been casual about security for this huge tournament, which means many of these guys are not properly trained and there has been no real vetting of them for criminal records. This is a criminal offence.”

Initially, it was suggested that the trade unions had spread false rumours about Stallion’s pay offer to workers to provoke strike action.

The unions were accused of spreading false rumours about the rate Stallion had promised workers. But attention has now shifted to rival security firms that allegedly told security guards they were being ripped off.

By Thursday it remained unclear whether the LOC or Fifa would reimburse the police and, by implication, the South African government for R100-million spent on police security at the four stadiums.

Mkhondo refused to comment or say whether Stallion would face penalties for failing to provide services.

Police spokesperson Sally de Beer was quoted in the Times on Thursday saying police officers would be paid R700 per shift. Given Stallion’s rate of R190 per shift, this will dramatically raise the cost of protecting the four major stadiums for the duration of the tournament.

Also of concern is the ability of police officers now required to do the work of stewards and security guards.

Fifa’s safety guideline, of which the M&G has a copy, explicitly stipulates that stewards should have experience of securing football matches.

A senior police officer said that trainee police officers do not necessarily undergo crowd-control training and that this is a specialist area.

Security analysts have also raised concerns about “learning gaps” that police trainees may have and the effect of the deployment of large numbers of operational police officers to stadiums on the broader safety of citizens.

The M&G is still awaiting all the LOC’s tender documentation, including its contract with Stallion, that it was compelled to hand over to the paper after the recent ruling by the South Gauteng High Court.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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