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‘Children becoming targets’: Experts say average of 50 kidnappings a day in SA

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Crime statistics from October to December 2023 show an average of 50 kidnappings happening daily in South Africa, says anti-crime activist.

Zahraa Mohamed, 17, and Mohamed Bataviya, 19, were driving from Bataviya’s home in Brits to school when they were kidnapped. Pictures: Supplied

GAUTENG and KwaZulu-Natal have been identified as hot-spots for kidnappings for ransom and human trafficking of well-known and wealthy families.

Anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee said cases in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape were also on the rise.

He said crime statistics from October to December 2023 showed an average of 50 kidnappings happening daily in South Africa.

“Many are kidnapped for ransom. This trend has been going up over the last few years, and there are two categories. One is the so-called express kidnappings where suspects take the victims over a day or two and rob them of a few thousand rand. They then let the victims go or keep them until they empty your bank accounts.

“The second category is the well-planned and orchestrated targeted kidnappings. Here they are going after shopkeepers or foreign nationals, including Indians, Somalians, Bangladeshi and Pakistanis, and Ethiopians,” he said.

But over the last few years, Abramjee said the country had seen an increase in the kidnapping of South African Indians as well.

“The kidnapping of the Brits teenagers, which was well-planned and orchestrated by a kidnapping syndicate, showed us many things.

“This was done possibly by a highly dangerous gang and it’s clear that they knew who they were targeting and what they wanted. This is a trend we are seeing in a number of kidnappings. These are possibly copycat syndicates that are involved and are dangerous or are established gangs that go after ransoms,” he said.

The police have the Anti-Kidnapping Task Team, he added, but claimed that although they have made some strides, it was not enough.

“There have been a number of arrests over the past year but the worrying part is that some of the suspects have been released on bail. That is contributing to the ongoing attacks that we are seeing. This means there is a problem with the criminal justice system,” Abramjee added.

He said urgent interventions were needed and crime intelligence needed to ‘come to the party’ to infiltrate the gangs, as organised syndicates were clearly targeting attacks on families that were well-known and wealthy.

Lizette Lancaster, from the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), said the annual police crime statistics showed a 256% increase in reported kidnappings in the decade between April 2013 (2013/14 financial year) and March 2023 (2022/23 financial year).

She said quarterly crime stats released by the SAPS since then, for the nine months between April and December 2023, showed further significant increases.

“The increases have been particularly dramatic since Covid-19. While around 5% of kidnappings relate to kidnappings for the purpose of ransom, extortion and small numbers of human trafficking, the bulk of kidnappings happen during the commission of other crimes such as armed robbery,” she added.

Research at the ISS indicated that during the nine months from April to December 2022, the SAPS recorded 11,702 kidnappings, which surpassed the annual figure of 10,826 from March 2021 to April 2022.

In the past 10 years, kidnappings rocketed by 183% from 3,832 in 2012/13 to 10,826 in 2021/22, with the upsurge related to the substantial growth of violent and organised crime.

“Some abductions are committed by sophisticated transnational groups specialising in high-value kidnappings. Local crime groups may carry out copycat attacks when they see the success of high-profile kidnappings,” she said.

The high-profile kidnappings for ransom, Lancaster said, were often well planned, resourced and executed by organised groups that may be involved in several forms of organised crime. Some may be local, some regional, and others international.

According to research at the ISS, more than half of the reported kidnappings take place in Gauteng, and most often business owners are targeted because they are likely to deal with large amounts of cash.

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