“I work four days every week and since I have no money to commute everyday from Domboshava where I live, I end up sleeping in Harare Gardens for the four days I would be on duty,” said Stanford Guchu, in startling revelations of working conditions of most security guards in the country.
The local security industry is one of the biggest employers in the country with owners amassing a lot of cash from security contracts they offer companies, but guards who man premises struggle to meet their daily expenses.
“It may sound surprising, but the truth is that most of the security guards work on commission and every week we are forced to go on unpaid leave. Sometimes I take home as little as $69 per month. We are always on temporary contracts,” said another security guard who preferred anonymity.
A snap survey showed most security guards have resorted to using bicycles to commute to work since they can not afford transport fares.
But that has its own risks. Having spent the greater part of the night awake on duty, chances of guards dozing off while cycling back home are high. So is the possibility of being hit by cars as their alertness would have been compromised.
Security guards have also resorted to reside in peri-urban areas such as Epworth, Hopley and Domboshava where the rentals are relatively cheap.
This means that most security guards have to cycle more than 60 kilometres every day forcing others to sleep in town and only go home when they are on off days.
“I cannot afford to pay $50 per month as rentals, so I have chosen to dwell in Hopley where there are no electricity and water bills. I just pay $20 as my monthly rental, which I can afford,” said another security guard who identified himself as Ignatius.
Most guards said the temptations to engage in illicit dealings were high because of low remuneration.
Some have been accused of stealing assets left in their care and in some cases conniving with robbers so they can share their loot.
Of late, some have been fingered in giving lodgings to prostitutes, for a fee at the premises they are supposed to secure.
“To me every dollar counts. My salary is very low so I have to find other ways to supplement it. I count myself lucky because I have a small room at the place I man, so I give it to prostitutes who want to camp for a short time for a minimal fee. I charge $1 or $2, depending on how desperate they are,” said another security guard in Avondale.
Other guards said their predicament has been worsened by the fact there is infighting in the union which is supposed to represent them, the Zimbabwe Security Guards Union.
“We no longer know where to report to. There are factions in our union because of individuals who want to enrich themselves at the expense of the people they are supposed to represent,” said Takudzwa Gutsai.
He added that if they try to voice their concern they are threatened with instant dismissal.
“We cannot air our grievances because the owners constantly remind us outside the gate some people are waiting to be employed. We do not have permanent contracts and it’s very difficult for us,” he said.
Austin Ndota, a faction representative from the union acknowledged that security guards were being abused, but indicated they do not know where to report.
“It’s true that our members end up living in Harare Gardens. The problem is their salaries are very low and they can not afford to commute every day. The problem is their representatives are no longer effective because of the infighting. Some of our members no longer know that we still exist and hence their continued exploitation in silence,” said Ndota.
A research conducted for ILO Sub- Regional Office for Southern Africa, Working Conditions and Labour Relations in the Private Security Industry in Zimbabwe, by Tsitsi Mariwo showed that according to National Employment Councils records, there are 338 private security firms, employing a total of 57 431 individuals.
The research, however, noted this number represent, only those companies that pay dues to National Employment Council (NEC). Interviews with NEC officials revealed that there could be more than 100 firms private security firms, with a total of 5 000 to 10 000 employees that have licences to operate firms in terms of the Private Investigators and Security Guards Control Act 27:10, but remain outside NEC’s jurisdiction.
The research also showed security firms employ about 8% of the labour force in the country. With such a high figures there is no vibrant union for the security guards hence their continued abuse by their employers.