In the current financial year (2018/19) the National Treasury allocated just under R3 billion to VIP protection – “a deeply conservative estimate” according to Gareth van Onselen, Institute for Race Relations (IRR) head of politics and governance.
“Few things in South Africa are more visible and yet more secretive than the country’s VIP Protection Services,” he said this week at the release of “South Africa’s Secret Police: Inside the Multi-Billion Rand, Clandestine VIP Protection Services”.
The report was prompted, amongst others, by observations that the country’s VIP Protection Services are “seen everywhere, but who they are, how they operate, how much they cost and what outcomes they are responsible for, generally remain a mystery”.
According to the report, spending on VIP protection “exploded” during Jacob Zuma’s term as president of South Africa. “It continues to increase year on year and Cyril Ramaphosa is set to inherit a behemoth.”
“Under President (Thabo) Mbeki, in nine years from 2000/2001 to 2008/2009, total expenditure on VIP Protection was R4.3bn. Over the next ten years – from 2009/2010 to 2018/2019 – chiefly under President Zuma, a total of R18.2 billion is set to be spent,” according to the report.
The report tracks all public expenditure on VIP Protection across all aspects, including VIP flights and the SA Air Force’s dedicated VIP transport unit – 21 Squadron – since 2000, when it first appeared as a budget line item.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) revealed this month that it had spent R61 million on VIP charters in 2016/17. The chartered aircraft flew 464 hours, according to the SANDF’s response to a question by the Democratic Alliance.
Van Onselen said there are various components to VIP Protection Services, “some falling under the SA Police Service (SAPS), some under the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and some under the Intelligence Service. They are not properly reported on and often, information about operations is denied or hidden in public documents”.
According to the report there are more than six thousand five hundred people working VIP Protection Services. Protection services are allocated to 450 South African and foreign dignitaries at 137 residences and locations. The South African president has 88 protectors assigned to him, the IRR report states.
Van Onselen said the report “seeks to assemble all available information – from key outcomes and the policy that defines its workload, equipment and personnel – to map the full character of the VIP Protection Services, including the most hidden of all its components, the Presidential Protection Service”.
He hopes the document “not just a guide to VIP Protection Services, but an archive of available information on it” will shed light on the how’s, what’s and why’s of the apparently high cost of keeping VIPs secure.