Daily Maverick –
The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea has this year
highlighted the problematic role played by private security companies (PSCs)
in Somalia, both in providing assistance to “non-statutory” forces in the
semi-autonomous Puntland region, as well as flooding Mogadishu with hefty
men hauling around big guns.
The Monitoring Group’s recent, leaked report alleges that the South African
government has been either unwilling, or unable stop the direct or indirect
supply, sale or transfer of weapons and military equipment, as well as the
direct or indirect supply of technical assistance or training, financial or
other assistance by South African PSCs working in Somalia. More
interestingly, the South African government was found not to have
co-operated with the Monitoring Group’s investigation, by ignoring various
inquiries for further information.
This is not the first time the South African government has failed to
co-operate with such an investigation. In April this year, the Mail &
Guardian reported that the government failed to respond to questions posed
by the United Nations relating to claims that South African mercenaries and
security companies aided the Gaddafi regime during the Libyan uprising.
“In January, the three-member panel, set up by the UN to probe human rights
violations committed during the Libyan conflict, asked the government to
provide clarity on the activity of South African mercenaries and security
companies in that country,” the Mail & Guardian said, adding: “Allegations
have been brought to the panel’s attention, from both news reports and other
reliable sources, of the involvement of South African security firms, and
South African nationals as mercenaries, in the attempts to extricate listed
individuals, including Muammar Gaddafi and members of his family to other
The government’s failure to respond has prompted accusations that South
Africa is willfully shirking its responsibility to crack down on illicit
mercenary activity, in violation of its own laws.
Security analysts, however, caution that instead of pointing to active
meddling in the Somali conflict, the government’s failure to co-operate with
these probes points rather to the great bulk of bureaucracy that impedes the
government in just about every sector.
“It seems surprising to me that the government would intentionally block
information like that, especially given our stance against private military
and security companies,” said one African defence analyst to the Daily
Maverick. “Depending on which ministry received the request, it could well
be incompetence or bureaucratic red tape that blocked access to the
South Africa, of course, does have existing legislation outlawing the sort
of mercenary activity that has become conflated with private security
services. And yet in recent years, South African links to mercenary activity
seem to have become a mainstay of modern-day conflict.
“The reports of South Africans involved, in one way or another, in external
conflicts and security arrangements paint a very bad picture of South
Africa,” Sabelo Gumedze, a senior researcher in the Conflict Management and
Peace building Division at the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria,
said in a report on the South African Defence Review that was undertaken by
former Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
The Defence Review, published in April this year, acknowledges that
non-state actors, including private military corporations and mercenaries,
will play increasingly prominent roles in international conflicts. But what
has not yet been ascertained is the particular role of South African
guns-for-hire in international conflict, and how exactly their involvement
will impact on South African foreign policy.
“In the last two decades, South Africa has been seen as a breeding ground
for mercenaries and also supplied personnel to work in the lucrative
business of international private military and security companies (PMSCs)
that are involved in various parts of the world,” Gumedze says.
Gumedze, however, further notes that despite acknowledging the growing role
of PSCs in international conflict zones, the Defence Review has failed to
tackle comprehensively the issue of South African mercenaries. “For
instance, it must be determined why South Africans are hired as mercenaries;
why they are also recruited to work for external PMSCs; and why the
international markets prefer their expertise. The answers to these pertinent
questions would shed light on how South Africa should address these issues.
The Review must also address the question of how the South African PSCs
should be effectively regulated. There have been disturbing reports of PSCs
and PMSCs operating in violation of South African laws both within and
outside the country,” he says.
Gumedze notes that The Review encourages a distinction between mercenaries
as individuals availing their military skills to foreign entities, and
private security companies who provide collective military services. It is a
distinction that even the Defence Review has failed to make absolutely
clear, and the blurriness between the two is perhaps best demonstrated by
investigating the activities of South African security firms and personnel
in Somalia. The challenge, then, appears to lie in how exactly to allow
South African PSCs to continue their work, while at the same discouraging
them from peddling military services to the next basket case state on the
One security analyst based in Somalia pointed out that not all PSC
operations in the country were fingered by the Monitoring Group. PSCs in
Somalia are crucial to the United Nations in offering on-board protection of
ships from piracy, as well as military and police training for the United
Nations’ AMISOM operation and the de facto government, the TFG. It is the
land-based anti-piracy operations in Puntland that has been far more
“The land-based anti-piracy initiative in Puntland has been openly targeted
by the UN and selected Western governments. The PSC has been targeted not
out of the virtue of baseline concern with PSCs operating in a conflict
context like Somalia, but because the initiative as it has been instigated
to date has not operated in UN and selected Western country interests,” he
He listed three primary PSCs operating in Mogadishu: Dynacorp, who provide
logistical support in the Somali capital; Bancroft International, who
provide training to TFG and AMISOM personnel, as well as assisting with
community service delivery; and PAE, whose mandate he described as
“All three employ a lot of South African personnel, all three are sanctioned
by the US, and their contracts are with the US. The UN and other Western
countries fully endorse their involvement,” he said, adding, “There are also
significant CIA, FBI, DIA facilities based in Mogadishu.”
There is just one land-based anti-piracy operation in the semi-autonomous
Puntland State, but it is this particular operation that has received
significant attention in the Monitoring Group report. The security analyst
consulted by the Daily Maverick described the development of the operation
“It has evolved many times since 2001, through a number of different
companies, with the Puntland government trying to find ways of externally
funding of its security force.
“In 2001, a company called Hart Security received a contract from Puntland
State to create a protection force for Puntland to protect itself against
“In 2002, the contract was taken over by a company called Somcan, which
wound up in 2005 because of a lack of Puntland government funding.
“In 2010, the Puntland government agreed to support a Blackwater land-based
anti-piracy programme that was funded by the Dubai Emirate in the UAE. After
US and UN complaints and pressure, the UAE changed companies to Saracen (a
South African company).
“Again, after complaints by the US and UN, the programme was transferred by
the UAE to a company called Sterling Corporate Services (which the
Monitoring Group report shows is Saracen, just by another name. Sterling ran
the programme (a 500-man militia) from 2011 to April 2012, until one of the
Sterling managers was murdered by a number of the militia. It has since been
“The word is that the US has convinced the UAE to accept Bancroft as the new
implementing PSC; and the programme will evolve from a punitive military
operation to a soft alternative livelihoods development programme.”
According to the Monitoring Group report, “More than two years have elapsed
since the first team of former South-African military personnel, including
Lafras Luitingh, Nicolas ‘Nic’ Van Der Bergh, François ‘Frans’ Eugene
Fourie, Lood Pepler and ‘Major’ Botes, landed in northeast Somalia to
assist, train, equip, supervise and mentor security forces in Puntland in
May 2010, in violation of the Somalia arms embargo.” Of these men, Major
Luitingh is reported to have been a member of the Apartheid-era South
African Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB) – an organisation tasked with three
primary objectives: eliminate anti-apartheid activists throughout the world;
destroy ANC facilities both inside and outside South Africa; and circumvent
the UN-imposed arms embargo. Their expertise, then, was no longer wanted in
a South Africa at peace – and it is perhaps the one downfall of South
Africa’s story of a peaceful transition that the more sinister elements of
the old regime were not addressed adequately.
And, as mentioned, the Monitoring Group report is not the first time South
African mercenary activity in Somalia, particularly in Puntland, has been a
talking point. Reports from both the New York Times and the Associated Press
in January last year first detailed the South African link to the operation.
But little was done to address the matter or indeed publicly address it.
Gumedze stresses that the South African government, in recognition of the
growing incidence of South African mercenary activity, has already tried to
enact further legislation to regulate these activities. He says, “The
Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill, which seeks to replace
the Private Security Industry Regulation Act 56 of 2001, proposes that any
person who, within the Republic, recruits, trains, hires out, sends or
deploys any other person to provide a security service outside the Republic
must, among other things, provide to the director of the Private Security
Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) on a monthly basis such information as
may be prescribed regarding such recruitment, training, hiring out, sending
or deployment within prescribed time limits.”
But is it enough? According to Gumedze, no.
“While it is commendable that South Africa has a regulatory regime that
seeks to address privatisation of security and mercenary activities within
and outside the country, the legal instruments (if they were to come into
force) would not be sufficient,” Gumedze says.