Car hijackings are on the rise in Gauteng. Picture by Kendridge Mathabathe.
Car hijackings are on the rise in Gauteng. Picture by Kendridge Mathabathe.

‘Don’t stand out’ - Hijackers provide insight into their criminal affairs

By Velani Ludidi, Sameer Naik, Karishma Dipa Time of article published Sep 4, 2021

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Johannesburg - Across Gauteng, car hijackings are on the rise, as criminals are making up for lost time and are taking advantage of easing lockdowns.

And for those in the cross-hairs of the hijackers, their best defence is to drive with unbuckled seatbelts, don’t wear a mask and leave windows wound down.

This is the advice of the criminals who spend their days on the lookout for an easy mark. The best defence, they told Independent Media this week, is to not stand out.

The official crime statistics released recently by Police Minister Bheki Cele revealed that car-jacking increased by 92.2% for the period April to June 30 compared to the same period last year.

In Gauteng, this number increased by a whopping 97.8 percent, with 2704 incidents.

“Take off your mask and safety belt,” said one of the hijackers, who didn’t want to be named. “Also, the safety belt can put you at risk of getting shot at. When you reach to unclick your seatbelt, we might panic and think that you are reaching for a weapon, and that is when you get shot.”

Women are mostly targeted as they are perceived to be weak and have a slow reaction time.

“Rolling your car windows all the way up on a sunny day is a sign of cowardliness, or that you are not from the area. Sometimes, we did not plan to hijack, but we saw that you are an easy target, then decide to come for you.”

A private security company owner, who mainly operates in Johannesburg’s inner city, said he had witnessed a spike in hijackings in this area whenever the lockdown levels drop.

And just yesterday, Health Minister Joe Phaala announced a possible lowering of lockdown levels in the next week.

"There is definitely a correlation between the lockdown levels and hijackings, and when it's lower, and we have less restrictions, there tends to be a spike," the owner, who wished to remain anonymous, explained.

He believes that this coincides with the movement of people, and when there are more restrictions, there are usually less cars on the road for hijackers to prey on.

But a worry crime trend the security company owner said, is the emergence of a hijacking scam that preys on Uber drivers, particularly, around Braamfontein, Mayfair and Maboneng.

"This hijacking scam usually involves setting up fake female profiles using the cash option, but when the Uber driver arrives, they are met by a female, open the car's doors, and the woman disappears while the men get inside and hijack them."

He said that many of the drivers now opt against taking cash options around the Johannesburg CBD.

He also suggested that passengers sit in the front seat of an Uber, in order for them to potentially make a quicker escape if a hijacking takes place.

"You don't want to be stuck in the back seat if a hijacking takes place and the hijackers drive off with you." he warned.

Andre Aiton, managing director of Beagle Armed Watch, says while he isn't aware of an increase in hijackings, as Beagle doesn't focus on hijackings, he has noticed a drastic increase in crime as a whole in Gauteng.

“Crime is at an all-time high,' says Aiton.

“I’ve been in the industry for the last thirty years, and crime is definitely at an all-time high. However, we are not concentrated and focused on hijackings. I haven’t heard of many hijackings, but what I can tell you is that home invasions are on the radar, (SEE PAGE 5) where criminals follow you into your driveway, keep the gate open, rush inside and beat you up.”

Charnel Hattingh, Head of Marketing and Communications for Fidelity Services Group, says while the statistics have been unacceptably high, it is encouraging to see, over the last month, there has been a reduction in the number of hijackings in their footprint.

"All the private security companies have been working closely together to make a meaningful impact in the number of incidents, and this is now showing results,” says Hattingh.

But vigilance and trying to go unnoticed sometimes is not enough, as the hijackers pointed out this week.

“There is no formula on how to avoid getting hijacked. We can take you on while you are driving the township way. Most of us want a quick buck, and crime provides that.”

Researcher and policy analyst Ziyanda Stuurman recently published a book where she looked at the future of policing in South Africa.

In the book, she mentions that while growing up in Gugulethu in Cape Town, when she purchased her first car, her father had to first drive it around so that criminals would notice it belonged to her father, who was well-known in the area.

“The points raised by the hijackers are very similar to the story I told about my car and my father. You need to be able to blend in as much as possible, so you don't make yourself a target. I have also gotten advice before not to come to a complete stop at stop streets or red robots when it's dark. Instead, I slow down and make sure there aren't other cars approaching, but it's about driving defensively and being constantly aware of your surroundings, especially when it's dark or it's in part of a township that you don't know well.”

The Saturday Star

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