Security guards queue for days to renew certificates

Psira’s new registration procedure causes workers to lose money and sleep outside

Photo of a woman with a child on her back
Sylvia Chali said she travelled to Cape Town from Strand with her two-year-old son to renew her security guard certificate at the Psira office at Thibault Square. She had to sleep outside the office as she could not afford to travel back and forth. She said she didn’t know how she was going to manage to feed her child. Photo: Steve Kretzmann/WCN

Hundreds of people including mothers with small children are sleeping on the street outside the Western Cape offices of the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira). They have been queueing for days in order to renew their security officer certificates.

On Monday, the queue of registered security guards stretched the length of a block at the bottom of St George’s Mall in Cape Town. Some said they started queueing last week.

All security guards in South Africa require a Psira registration certificate in order to work. In December 2014, Psira announced that the old Security Officers’ Board (SOB) certificates would have to be replaced with a new barcoded certificate, requiring all guards in the Western Cape to travel to the Psira offices in Thibault Square to have their details processed.

As a result, people such as Zolani Liqaza travelled from Vredenburg and Veliswa Mbuti came from Mossel Bay to camp outside the Psira offices.

The Security Association of South Africa (SASA) National Administrator, Tony Botes, said no deadline was placed on certificate renewal until November last year, when Psira announced 31 March as the cut-off date. With the deadline looming, guards are having to take time off and travel to Cape Town at their own expense to meet the requirement.

A circular dated 6 March posted on the Psira website states the deadline for certificate renewal has been extended to 31 July. However, none of the scores of people GroundUp spoke to on Thibault Square were aware of the extension.

Despite the long queues on Monday, three officials processing the renewals apparently knocked off shortly before 3pm. At that time only 120 out of about 1,000 guards had their renewals processed. Those still queueing were told they would have to line up again the next morning.

Working mothers, such as Sylvia Chali from Strand, had no choice but to bring her two-year-old boy with her. They slept outside the offices.

Aviwe Mzana from Mfuleni slept on Thibault Square on Monday night. She managed to have her renewal processed on Tuesday. Mzana said nobody told her the deadline had been extended.

Of the 40 guards GroundUp spoke to on Monday, 12 of them said they had no choice but to sleep on the street and line up again the next morning as they had no money to travel back and forth.

Mokapi Mponeng said the company she worked for, Trident Security, had not paid her since 1 February, telling her she would only get paid once she had her certificate renewed. Trident Security CEO Chris Wickham did not respond to emailed questions.

Psira senior communications manager Oupa Mamabolo said that the certificate renewal was to ensure that only “eligible registered applicants (security officers and businesses) receive the new certificate with new security features encrypted.”

He said the 31 July deadline extension had been communicated to trade unions, employers and “service providers”, and SMS notifications had been sent to all security officers.

However, nobody in the queue seemed to have received the message.

Mamabolo said “internal processes have been amended to accommodate the high number of people visiting our office”. Yet queueing guards said there were only three officials to process the renewals and the system often went offline.

Mamabolo said individuals did not need to visit the Psira office for renewals as arrangements with security companies had been made for the employer to submit the necessary information and collect certificates in bulk on behalf of their employees.

Two security companies GroundUp contacted refused to comment. But head of human resources at Grinnell Security, Andries Bester, said they had made such arrangements. “There’s no way we could allow staff to stand in a queue day in and day out while their site remains unguarded,” said Bester.

He said the concern now was that, unlike the old SOB certificates, the new ones had to be renewed annually, and Psira could be facing the same bottleneck in a year’s time.

SASA’s Tony Botes said the new barcoded certificates were necessary as fraud in the private security sector was rampant. He said there are about half a million active and legitimate security officers in South Africa, yet due to “serious duplication and triplication” of records, more than two million security officers are registered on the Psira database.

He said of the first 110,000 security officers who registered for the new barcoded certificate since December 2014, 9,000 fraudulent registrations were uncovered.

“That’s terrifying,” he said.

He said in collaboration with Home Affairs, security officers were identified by their fingerprints, and often two different people on the Psira database would be found to have the same fingerprints.

In his opinion, Psira’s “biggest mistake” was not putting a cut-off date when they initially announced the implementation of the new certification in 2014, and then, after three years, announcing a deadline in November last year for 31 March 2018.

He said since the 2014 announcement, Psira has had mobile teams that set up temporary registering stations, often at the premises of SASA members’ offices, in order to help security officers outside of Cape Town to renew their registration certificates. These satellite stations had resulted in about 45,000 registration renewals.

However, a senior official in the security industry said the problem was Psira officers would only be at a far-flung town for a day, and many security officers would have to be working on site and unable to renew their certificates.

He said security firms had the fingerprints of their employees so they could simply send those to Psira for checking.

Produced by West Cape News for GroundUp

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