Durban - Kidnapping is weaving itself into the fabric of crime in South Africa, often in combination with other crimes.
According to national police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe, 3 841 cases were reported between April and June, often in conjunction with extortion, hijacking or rape.
Private investigator Brad Nathanson, who calls it a “national sport”, believes many cases are not even reported to police and that the statistics are likely higher.
“People often ask for huge amounts and then settle for far lower amounts,” said Nathanson.
Foreigners are often vulnerable, he said.
KZN ranks second after Gauteng, not surprising KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas, given how South Africa’s population was distributed among provinces.
“It is just a variation of crime,” she told the Independent on Saturday.
“The rule of law is hanging on a thread and it all goes back to the police.”
She questioned what had come of the SA Police Services’ crime intelligence services, especially in townships and rural areas. She noted that people were often scared of going to the police, in case they were victimised.
“They don’t know who in the police they are talking to,” she said.
Gauteng’s top five hotspots are Vosloorus, Tembisa, Midrand, Protea and Orange Farm, said Wahl Bartmann, CEO of Fidelity Services Group.
“In KZN, the top five high-risk areas for kidnappings are Umlazi, Inanda, Durban Central, Pinetown and Ntuzuma.”
Nathanson said he recently dealt with a case that involved a ransom demand of R200 000 that was settled for R8 000.
“The problem is there are no consequences. The police are stretched and a lot of people do not report crimes.“
He estimated that out of 10 cases, eight were not reported.
“I believe this crime is going to be getting out of hand to the extent that people are at some point going to be sending their children to school with an armed escort and others will have to have an armed escort to protect themselves from would-be kidnappers.”
Bartmann said a crime like kidnapping required a highly specialist approach and was handled within the group by a specialist task team.
“We have specialist tactical intervention and reinforcement teams to manage this high-risk criminal action. They work behind the scenes in often dangerous circumstances to ensure that customers and assets are kept safe,” he said.
Bartmann added that when most people hear of a kidnapping, they immediately think of a net-worth businessperson being held for a ransom of millions.
“While this is indeed true, and SA has seen its fair share of these over the years, the ordinary man in the street is easily a target too.”
He said an increasingly prevalent trend recently was “express kidnappings” where motorists were hijacked and driven in their own vehicle or another vehicle to an ATM and forced to withdraw cash. They were then also robbed of valuables before being left at an isolated location.
Bartmann added that human trafficking, particularly the abduction of women and children, was a pervasive issue in South Africa.
“In fact, it is more prevalent in ‘quiet suburbia’ than many residents would like to acknowledge.”
He said victims were as diverse as the crime and could be targets of anyone from criminal organisations and political extremists to ransom kidnappers and family members embroiled in a dispute.
“Criminal organisations, such as drug cartels, terrorist organisations and criminal gangs, target people they can gain financially from, there’s a political reason or the deed will help them to exert control over a particular area. Political extremists may target government officials, diplomats or foreigners to advance their agendas or make demands.
“Kidnapping for ransom is simply criminals looking for financial gain by targeting wealthy individuals, businesspeople or tourists who are perceived to have the means to pay a significant ransom. In some cases, custody disputes can lead to the abduction of a child and in rare cases, an individual with a psychological disorder can engage in kidnapping for reasons not easily explained.”
Kidnapping, according to Fidelity, which worked from police crime statistics, consists of the unlawful intentional deprivation of a person of his freedom of movement or, if such a person is a child, the unlawful intentional deprivation of a parent of control over the child.
Private investigator Rick Crouch said that while some people would categorise the detaining of a person and taking them to an ATM to draw money as a kidnapping, he believed it should be considered a carjacking.
He understood kidnapping to take place when a person is held hostage for a ransom.
“Victims in these types of kidnappings are usually not the ordinary man on the street but are business people, politicians, international business professionals.
“These types of kidnappings are not crimes of opportunity: the syndicates take their time, watch their victims and conduct background investigations on them, sometimes for weeks before putting their plan in action.
“Hotspots for these types of kidnappings can be anywhere, it depends on the surveillance done by the syndicates. This is why we advise our clients to vary their routines, vary the routes taken to work and back, don't be predictable.“
Crouch said he had not noticed an increase in requests from clients regarding what he understood to be kidnapping over the last six months.
The Independent on Saturday