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’The kidnapping of four children at once is unusual’- criminal experts on why the Moti brother’s kidnapping gripped the nation

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It has been alleged that the family paid R50 million in bundles to ensure the safe release of their sons, however the family have denied paying any form of ransom.

Six-year-old Zidan, Zayyad, 11, Alaan, 13, and Zia Moti, 15, were kidnapped while they were en route to their private school Curro Heuwelkruin, on October 20. File picture.

Johannesburg – It’s one of South Africa’s most highly publicised kidnapping cases of recent times, and one that has gripped the nation.

But with kidnapping so rampant in South Africa, and with many current active cases, why did the kidnapping of the four Moti brothers take precedence over other kidnapping cases in the country?

Criminal experts believe that it’s down to the uniqueness of the case.

“Although children had been victims of kidnapping incidents since the first documented kidnapping incidents, it’s probably the first time that four brothers were kidnapped in South Africa during one incident,” advocate Herman Bosman, kidnapping incident manager at TSU International, told the Saturday Star.

Bosman believes that the case also received more traction than others as it involved a well-known family.

“The family are well-known in the community,” said Bosman. “Also the incident, due to the children, received a lot of attention and emotion.”

Institute for Security Studies crime and justice information hub manager Lizette Lancaster agrees.

“The kidnapping of four children at once is unusual,” she said. “Also the brazen use of violence by a large armed gang captured the imagination of the public.”

The Moti boys, Zia, Zayyad, Alaan and Zidan were released on November 11, after they endured a three-week kidnapping and hostage ordeal.

According to the police, they received a call from a local resident in Vuwani, Limpopo, who alerted officers to the brothers’ arrival at their house, saying they were dropped off on a nearby road.

It has been alleged that the family paid R50 million in bundles to ensure the safe release of their sons, however the family have denied paying any form of ransom.

Muslim youth from District Six held a special prayer service on November 4 at Springfield Terrace in District Six for the safe return of the missing Moti brothers. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Criminal expert Mike Bolhuis says he too wasn’t surprised by the attention the case received.

“It’s a unique case,” said Bolhuis. “Four kids being kidnapped at one time is unheard of, especially in South Africa. Also it involved an extremely well-known family. They are a big family group . They are connected nationally and internationally and are very well known so it’s no real surprise.”

Bolhuis said the family’s decision to also involve the public in helping them track down the boys is another reason why the case was so highly publicised.

“There are only two options when it comes to kidnapping cases. You can do an absolute cloak-and-dagger investigation, where nobody knows, aside from the police and specialists you have roped in for the investigation, like private investigators and forensic teams, and it works on a complete need-to-know basis and each one acts on their expertises.

“The second option you have is that you immediately involve everyone. You use social media and spread the word, and that’s what happened with the Moti brothers case. The family immediately started contacting family and friends to find out if they knew of anything, and asked them to spread the word.

“They immediately made it public to get help from everyone. Usually those decisions are made in an emotional state, and are a quick response.”

Muslim youth from District Six held a special prayer service at Springfield Terrace in District Six for the safe return of the missing Moti brothers. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Bolhuis added that the case was also unusual as high profile kidnappings seldom involved the kidnapping of children.

“It’s very seldom that a child has been taken and a family asked for money in high profile kidnapping cases, however, it is escalating and is happening more and more frequently in the country now.”

Bosman, who served in the SAPS for nearly 30 years, said he’s noticed a rise in all forms of kidnapping.

“Kidnapping incidents are all different and various types of incidents can be defined such as human trafficking, high-net-worth individual kidnapping, and criminal vendetta and kidnapping. There is definitely a rise in all types, not specifically in the kidnapping of children, although sadly they are also targeted more.

“Children are seen as an easier target, putting much more pressure on parents to comply with the kidnappers’ demands.”

Bosman expects South Africa’s worrying kidnapping trend to rise.

“Kidnappings in general, including those of children, will continue to rise as they did over the past 23 years and specifically the last 10 years (20% annually and more). I have dealt with and know of many kidnapping incidents in South Africa where children were kidnapped over the past 23 years.

“We did not end up in this situation overnight, the growing problem was simply ignored.”

Bosman added that there were several things government could do to curb kidnappings.

“Kidnapping syndicates operate where conditions favour them. To curb kidnappings, we need a functional state, which requires stable socio-economic conditions,competent and effective organs of state such as the police service, intelligence, military etc, and we need to be free from corruption.”

Lancaster believes the main reasons for the steep rise in kidnapping include the substantial rise in violent crime such as robbery, and the growth of organised crime syndicates in South Africa.

“Kidnapping for ransom and extortion is a crime with a potentially high reward. Therefore, one can expect more syndicates will take advantage of this opportunity, because they believe the prospective reward exceeds the risk of being caught and prosecuted,” said Lancaster.

“Many gangs ensure they have police officers on their payroll to help them evade prison.”

Lancaster said children are increasingly being targeted.

“There is no data on the proportion of kidnapping victims that are children under 18 years. However, children are often targeted for ransom or extortion as leverage against the parents. Criminals know that this will put them in a stronger negotiating position.

“The 2020 quarterly statistics show that kidnapping is still on the rise and the number is rising quite dramatically. Therefore, although the proportion is unknown, it can be expected that the kidnapping of children is also on the rise.”

Missing Children SA said they too have seen a rise in missing children.

“Yearly we as an organisation see an increase in children going missing,” said Bianca van Aswegen, their national co-ordinator

“In the last year there has also been a definite increase in kidnapping cases with both children and adults, and an increase in human trafficking cases. South Africa has been declared a human trafficking hub by the US Department of State.

Judy Botes at the Missing Children SA offices in Bellville. This wall of missing children photographs spans cases across the country. Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Van Aswegen added that there were many reasons why South Africa’s number of missing children was so high.

“We have children who run away from home due to reasons such as domestic violence and abuse. We have young children as well as mentally challenged children who often get lost and wander off by themselves.

“We also deal with different types of kidnappings, such as ransom demands, parental abductions, opportunistic kidnappings and human trafficking.”

Van Aswegen bemoaned the lack of awareness around missing children, stressing the importance that each missing child should get the same media attention.

“It’s important that people realise that this is a serious situation regarding children going missing and that it can happen to anyone at any time at any place.

“People need to start standing together and help us as an organisation to fight against our children going missing”

The Saturday Star

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