Shocking 16,000 annual kidnappings in SA: Who is targeted, and how can you stay safe

Zahraa Mohammed, 17, and Bataviya Mohammed, 19 were kidnapped in front of a primary school in Brits last month, before they were rescued by police. Picture: Supplied

Zahraa Mohammed, 17, and Bataviya Mohammed, 19 were kidnapped in front of a primary school in Brits last month, before they were rescued by police. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 7, 2024


While South Africa is grappling with a considerable increase in kidnapping cases, the worrying figures from Statistics SA (StatsSA) show that 85% of the victims are women and children.

According to 2023/2024 SA Police Service crime statistics, between July and September there were an alarming 4,300 reported kidnapping cases, while 293 children and 881 women were murdered in the last quarter of 2023.

Last month, Sunday Independent reported international statistics in 2023 showed that South Africa had the highest kidnapping rate among African countries, with 9.57 kidnappings out of 100,000 people.

Additionally, Statista, which reports on international criminal activity stated: “It is important to note that these statistics reflect reported crime… not all crime is reported.”

In an interview with IOL, Willem Els from the regional human security policy think-tank Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, said evidence showed the victims of the ballooning kidnapping in South Africa were mainly women and children.

Willem Els from the regional human security policy think-tank, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria. Picture: Supplied

“I am sure you have the statistics which show that more than 15,000 people have been kidnapped in South Africa in the last financial year, and we also see that just over 85% of those people were women and children. That makes makes it quite difficult,” said Els.

“According to the statistics of the Institute for Security Studies, we have got a crime hub and we also keep statistics. Kidnapping for ransom rose by 260% over the last decade,” he said.

“Now, on who are they targeting as you ask, and how could people prevent being kidnapped etc – the problem is that is is such a diverse group of people that are being targeted,” said Els who is a Senior Training Coordinator at the ENACT Programme.

“In the first place is the kidnappings for ransom, where business people are targeted, where big money is involved. Those (targeted) are typically business people and people with money.”

He said the next batch of kidnapping victims are people who fall prey to human trafficking. Children and women are often targeted in this segment.

Children are often the main targets for human trafficking in South Africa. File Picture

“For them it would be a completely different thing on how to prevent that. Then drugs also play a big role in kidnappings. The drug industry is playing a big role in kidnapping – business debts, there it is a big thing,” said Els.

He said some of the kidnappings are sparked by family feuds.

“There is a big problem where families for instance the mother would take the children, kidnapping them and taking them away from the father who is also a legal custodian or vice versa. That is also another challenge,” said Els.

He highlighted that South African has been ranked number seven globally in terms of the amount of people that are kidnapped.

“That is alarming and that is against the backdrop of our crime statistics that are through the roof. Something that we also picked up is that university students are being targeted in kidnappings,” said Els.

“On how do you prevent that, in South Africa we have become so street-wise,” he said.

“Whenever you are walking, you are keeping your handbag, your cellphone out of sight. It is that situational awareness that we have to go back to, because at the end of the day it is part of our survival skills that we develop in South Africa, being exposed to so much violent crime.”

Last month, police in North West province made a major breakthrough in the case of kidnapped learners - Zahraa Mohammed, 17, and Bataviya Mohammed, 19, and rescued the two teenagers.

The learners were kidnapped on March 6, in a dramatic, movie-style abduction while they were on their way to school.

Two cousins - Zahraa Mohammed, 17, and Bataviya Mohammed, 19 were kidnapped in front of a primary school in Brits last months and were rescued by police weeks later. Picture: X/Screengrab

Speaking to IOL on the shocking kidnappings in South Africa, seasoned investigator Calvin Rafadi said kidnappings have become a way of making serious money.

Seasoned investigator Calvin Rafadi. File Picture

“People are being under duress during hijackings where they would now be ordered to open their banking apps and money gets looted,” said Rafadi.

“In terms of that, I think it is wise for people to remove the apps from their phones and only download when it is time to conduct transactions. When a criminal orders you to open your phone and they can see the app, they they instruct you to go into the app.”

He said some people have been targeted by kidnappers after news filtered that they received windfalls from institutions like the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

“Such people are held, kidnapped while the money is being looted from their bank accounts. There has also been copycat kidnapping where students are also kidnapped and less money is demanded. By less, I mean money that can be withdrawn quickly like less than R50,000,” said Rafadi.

Crime analyst Calvin Rafadi said students are also being targeted by kidnappers. File Picture: Pixabay

“The crime analyst said some people are kidnapped at the instigation of their business associates or rivals. The kidnappers know the worth of the people they target. At times, the kidnappers have an inside person who will be closely monitoring developments including if the ransom money is going to be paid and if the police are not involved.”

To increase safety amid the growing crime, Rafadi advised that community members could reconsider what they share on social media platforms - especially regarding families and children.

“People must try and stay away from social media especially posts about their lives, and their wealth because that can attract copycat kidnappers,” he said.