South Africa is, essentially, a Socialist-minded country without the First World economy that is needed to make Socialism work. She is left with a situation of a police force that is cracking under the strains of corruption, targeted attacks on policemen, lack of faith and respect for the service (a remnant of the apartheid years) and of course, the eternal, lack of funds.
So what to do in a climate where you want your goods protected, but the police aren't coming to the party? If you're South African, you show a little innovation, use up all that spare time now that Affirmative Action has rendered you jobless, and you create your own private security firm. Hey! If the UK can privatise prisons, hospitals and the railways, why can't South Africa privatise her police force?
Take a handful of army trained, secondary educated, hardegat Afrikaners, add a little financial backing, stir in a few uniforms and fast cars with sirens and the result is a booming private Security Industry.
Far from "hired privatised militia", but rather professionals, uncorrupt, efficient, with extremely fast response times. They may be armed, but they are not vigilantes. More like Neighbourhood Watch's big brother.
Legally, I'm not sure where they stand regarding using their weapons, which may well not be live ammunition but rather stun guns or blanks. There have been no murder or attempted murder cases that I am aware of, though possibly, this is because criminals, particularly poor ones, do not have easy access to civil litigation. In theory, one only fires when under fire, so any exchange of bullets would be self defence on the part of the security guard. They're in the business of property recovery, not apprehension of criminals.
The private Security Industry plays an extremely positive role in policing in South Africa, freeing up the under resourced police force to deal with violent crime while private companies handle breaking-and-entering, motor theft, etc. Unfortunately many car thefts are hijackings (carjackings), so the two do occasionally merge.
In a country where one may still drive on the roads without comprehensive insurance, insurance premiums on carjacker-popular cars are astronomical in cities like Johannesburg. In 1999, the insurance on my Volkswagen Golf, had I lived in Jo'burg, would have been more than the repayments on the new car! In Cape Town, the premiums were about half the value of the repayments, and in Knysna, about a fifth. If your car is linked to one of the private security companies, however, your premiums drop significantly.
The saddest thing, however, is that this private security industry is one of the healthiest industries in present-day South Africa, and worse, burglar bars, alarm systems and rapid response vehicles has tattooed our culture. It's here to stay, regardless of whether the new Safety and Security Minister manages to build on recently deceased Steve Tshwete's excellent work at cutting back crime.
With many, many thanks to station23 for the exchange of messages that lead to this wu