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Executive Protection: Big Bucks, Bullets And Bodyguards

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The dark and dangerous lives of the men protecting the rich. The stakes are high and so too the rewards.


Muscled men wearing dark sunglasses, black tuxedos and stern looks, at the entrance of one of Africa’s most luxurious hotels. One of them whispers into a mouthpiece, and a metallic black SUV bearing a VVIP screeches into the parking lot.

Without wasting any time, the area is cleared of passers-by, and a man nattily dressed in a light blue-tailored suit is closely escorted by the men into the hotel lobby.

As the man disappears into a mosaic of opulent walls at The Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton in the pulsating business heart of Johannesburg, an unsuspecting vendor on the pavement slowly re-assembles his wares, oblivious to the high society stakes in the towers over his head.

It is a Wednesday afternoon and the financial hub is a motorist’s nightmare, filled with garrulous weekday traffic. The dark shades of the men in black glint in the sun, as they stand in closed groups engaging in casual conversation but always alive to their surroundings.

These are the bodyguards of the rich and famous, who spend their days and nights putting themselves in the spotlight – and at times, in harm’s way. And they are not to be found only in blockbuster action films. They can be seen in Africa’s elite spaces – you just need to look for them to find them.

But the exaggerated imagery apart, players in this industry protecting high-profile people, say that things have changed.

Close protection officers from NightGuard Security stand in formation. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Graham Ludwig, the Managing Director of BGA Protection, who has been in the executive protection and services industry for over 20 years, says: “There is a stereotype where the bodyguard wears a black suit, red tie and sunglasses. The reality is that you don’t want to dress like that and stand out. You want to blend in and be seen as part of the client’s entourage.” 

Often, protectors or ‘detail’ as they are referred to, find themselves dressed in simple chinos and a collar shirt to assume an incognito persona. Keeping a distance and providing protection while not getting too familiar with the client is the main objective.

The high net worth clients generally request these services. However, not all of them insist on subtlety as a prerequisite for the job.

“Generally, executives and high net worth individuals prefer a low-profile detail; they don’t like the flashy lights. That is a big ‘no’ for them; they don’t like driving in convoys. That is something we do in South Africa; but that is really frowned upon,” Ludwig says.

BGA provides executive protection and close protection services, specializing in watching over visitors concerned about security in a particular area.

Other than executives, clients range from actors to musicians and even high-ranking corporate titans who receive mandatory protection.

There are myriad reasons why individuals would require services of this nature, and some of them are indeed reminiscent of action films – business deals gone wrong, political disputes and personal vendetta that result in life-threatening situations.

Threats are often directed to the targeted individual, their family or close business associates.

Emile Eblen briefs the detail before the convoy heads to an unknown location in Johannesburg. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

“Some companies mandate that their executive team have protection because it aligns with the ‘duty of care’ which is a big thing in the industry. Duty of care, effectively, says when an employee visits another country, every possible measure of safety is taken into consideration,” Ludwig says.

Duty of care is commonly applied in finance institutions, the pharmaceuticals industry, and with actors, entertainers and individuals in the travel industry.

A meticulous program is tailor-made as each request is unique to the schedule of the client.

An example, Ludwig offers, is about a client who travels from South Africa to another African country for charity work.

The client makes contact with the service provider, in this case BGA, requesting on-the-ground protection.

“We travel to [the country] with the client’s itinerary. We start the protection at the airport, guarantee that the luggage is handled with the security to ensure that when the plane lands, the baggage is marked to the dedicated vehicle, and that the passport is stamped quickly,” he says.

 In preparation for the client’s arrival, an advanced route clearance plan ensures that all movement from the first point of contact to the last is secure.

 Clinics, police stations and evacuation plans are painstakingly drafted into the proposal weeks in advance to prepare for any unforeseen eventuality.

Every detail, no matter how minuscule, in the surrounding area is taken into consideration; even the number of stairs in a building is memorized. 

But what happens when the client changes plan?

Ludwig says high net worth individuals are less likely to cause trouble when it comes to their own safety.

Unable to pinpoint a bad experience with a client, he highlights that demands, sometimes, have had the Close Protection Officer (CPO) driving through the city in search of a specific bottle of champagne in an unfamiliar environment or at an unearthly hour.

“We were looking after an actor at a premiere, and one of the other protection details [the bodyguards] working with the directors of the movie has a serious background and he doesn’t believe in allowing fans to get close to the stars. He almost broke a guy’s hand who tried to get close, drawing attention to the detail,” Ludwig says.

This is a typical scenario leaving Willie Viljoen, Managing Director of Executive Protection Agency, with no choice but to keep VIP protection protocol to a minimum.

The detail is often mistreated and we have to put up with ridiculous demands like picking up [discarded] tissue paper for the client. It just causes HR issues and draws too much attention.

Viljoen, who joined the company in 2007, but has not been out on the field as a protection officer for the past six years, hopes that a client worth his money will coax him to get out into the streets again.

From protecting Oscar-winning South African actor Charlize Theron to some of the continent’s richest men, Viljoen will always remember his first day on duty.

He candidly offers an anecdote.

An executive in a Chinese construction firm arrived at the Durban harbor with unmarked and unregistered trucks and cranes.

A customs issue, Viljoen had to step in to resolve it.

After spending hours at the harbor, eventually, the two five-ton trucks, guarded by a three-vehicle motorcade, drove off to the Mpumalanga province in South Africa to deliver the items, at a tedious speed of 40km per hour.

What would have been an eight-hour drive turned into a three-day journey that left Viljoen with a lifetime of distaste for the otherwise scenic route.

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The Top 5 Emerging Crazy Tech

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A pick of some of the weirdest, coolest tech that could come hurtling our way this year.

  1. A bot that delivers toilet paper

Forgot to instal toilet paper in the loo? The Charmin RollBot is designed to carry a roll of toilet paper on two wheels. With the press of a button on your phone, the RollBot will help with your sanitary requirement.

Using Bluetooth, the bot will commence its mission; an infra-red sensor able to navigate its way to you. According to Business Insider, there’s no price or release date for RollBot, nor is it clear if it will ever be released as a consumer product. Charmin calls RollBot a “conceptual prototype”. The brand unveiled the bot last month at the CES 2020 expo in Las Vegas.

2. The Cyrcle phone

If for any reason you got bored of your rectangular handset, the circular phone is always an alternative offering a different view and take. According to the makers, the phone was designed with the Generation Z, female audience in mind. It’s round and features two headphone jacks. The device was designed by a US-based startup delivering a shape that it says is more “sensual”. The company reckons it will be ready to launch in a year’s time.

3. A smart bed

There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. But it’s not always possible to have the best sleep every day. Or is it? There is a bed that’s guaranteed to give you your beauty sleep the way you want it.

Sleep Number Climate 360 has a mattress with features that warm your feet to help you sleep faster. It will also help you stay asleep by cooling your body, and balance your temperature with your natural wake and sleep cycles.

But what’s most intriguing is the fact that the bed also gives you a Sleep IQ score for personalized sleep insights. It measures your heart rate, breathing and movement, tracks your circadian rhythms and can show how your heart rate varies. The smart bed received the CES 2020 Best of Innovation award and is only expected to be available in 2021.

4. Self-changing trash can

For those who dread taking out the trash, this device is possible a no-brainer. Apart from its motion sensors to detect when you need to throw trash, when it’s full, it will automatically seal the trash bag and line the bin with a new one, all with a press of a button.

Even if the bin is overflowing, the top compartment will lift up so it can still seal the bag shut without any mess. The bin, called the Townew bin, was designed by a Canadian company, Knectek Labs.

5. Vertical TV

Just when we were getting used to wider TVs, it seems taller screens may soon be coming to your living room. Samsung’s Sero TV vertical-oriented will soon be hitting markets.

The TV can not only work in the traditional horizontal format, but is also able to turn on its side for playing vertical videos in portrait style.This might come in handy when watching videos from social media platforms such as TikTok or Instagram that deal primarily with vertical videos.

It sits on a stand that prevents it hitting the floor when turning, and can be paired with a phone so that it automatically orientates it correctly based on what’s beamed from the handset. According to TechRadar.com the pricing and availability are yet to be revealed, but the Sero will be leaving Korea and is headed to the US and “several global markets” later this year.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Entertainment

Highest-Paid Country Acts 2019: Lil Nas X Debuts; Luke Bryan Tops List

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The Country Music Awards are billed as Nashville’s biggest night, but this year’s event buried the genre’s most significant breakthrough of the past 12 months, offering up just one nomination for 20-year-old musician Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” spent a record 19 weeks atop the singles charts.

That run helped Lil Nas X notch a different honor, debuting on the Forbes list of top-earning country acts this year with an estimated pretax income of $14 million. The Atlanta native claims the No. 18 spot thanks to the fiendishly catchy country-rap track he released through indie music service Amuse in December 2018. The song clocked 1.8 billion spins by summer despite being booted from the Billboard country charts. The snub—and a bevy of remixes—helped “Old Town Road” broaden the genre’s audience more than any track in recent memory. 

“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself,” says Amuse cofounder Diego Farias. “Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”

Lil Nas X isn’t the only high earner to come up short at the awards ceremony: Luke Bryan claims the top spot on our list for the second consecutive year with $42.5 million but didn’t receive a single nomination. That’s mostly because the Georgia native, who favors baseball caps over cowboy hats, hasn’t put out a new studio album since 2017. Instead, he spent his time grossing more than $1 million per tour stop and serving as a judge on American Idol.

The genre-bending Zac Brown Band ranks second, pulling in $38.5 million on the strength of 50 live performances and a new album, The Owl, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts. Other crossover acts on the list include Canadian songstress Shania Twain (No. 7 with $29 million) and hip-hop-tinged duo Florida Georgia Line (No. 8 with $26 million).

“Country’s more of a lifestyle,” the group’s cofounder Brian Kelley told Forbes in 2015. “The music’s always going to evolve.”

“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself. Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”

Plenty of the CMAs’ stars did make our list, including performers Eric Church (No. 6, $30 million) and Miranda Lambert (No. 20, $13 million), as well as two of the hosts—Dolly Parton (No. 15, $17 million) and Carrie Underwood (No. 14, $16 million). A third host, Reba McEntire, narrowly missed the cut.

Overall, the top ten acts in country earned $311.5 million, up 2% from last year’s $304.5 million. Our list of the genre’s top earners measures estimated pretax earnings from June 1, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Figures are generated with the help of numbers from Nielsen Music, PollstarPro and interviews with industry insiders.

Although our rankings typically reflect country’s woeful lack of diversity at the top, this year’s list offers at least a glimmer of hope that things are changing. There are 6 women in the top 20—the least lopsided ratio in the seven years Forbes has published the list—and Lil Nas X is both the first openly gay act and the first person of color to make it.

Though he declined to comment for this story through a representative, Lil Nas X is clearly taking his role as a trailblazer seriously, regardless of how much CMA hardware he takes home. As he told the BBC earlier this year: “I feel like [I’m] opening doors for more people.”

20. Miranda Lambert, $13 million (tie)

20. Lady Antebellum, $13 million (tie)

19. Rascal Flatts, $13.5 million

18. Lil Nas X, $14 million

17. Faith Hill, $15 million

16. Carrie Underwood, $16 million

15. Dolly Parton, $17 million

14. George Strait, $17.5 million

13. Tim McGraw, $18 million

12. Dierks Bentley, $20 million

11. Toby Keith, $21 million

10. Jason Aldean, $23.5 million

9. Garth Brooks, $24 million

8. Florida Georgia Line, $26 million

7. Shania Twain, $29 million

6. Eric Church, $30 million

5. Kenny Chesney, $31 million

4. Blake Shelton, $32 million

3. Keith Urban, $35 million

2. Zac Brown Band, $38.5 million

1. Luke Bryan, $42.5 million

– Zack O’Malley Greenburg

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