Warning signs alert drivers to dangerous areas along routes. Gcina Ndwalane
Johannesburg - Vehicle hijackings might seem like a random act of crime but some experts believe it is the work of well-organised criminal syndicates.

These criminal groups are thought to plan meticulously for each vehicle they hijack and will often not think twice about using extreme violence to get their jobs done with an increasing number of hostages being taken.

This week, the National Hijacking Prevention Academy (NHPA) released updated information about hijacking in South Africa.

This report revealed that vehicle hijackings were a way for criminals who were part of these often well-established syndicates to make “easy money,” as they do the dirty work on behalf of syndicates who are believed to operate in a similar fashion to drug cartels.

“Vehicle hijacking is an organised business, run according to business principles and based on thorough planning,” the NHPA said in its updated hijacking report.

They explained that the syndicates order specific vehicles with specific characteristics from hijackers beforehand and efforts have to be made to meet the requirements of such orders.

These vehicles will then be resold to the already predetermined buyer, many of whom are also from other countries who don’t always need to pay in cash.

“The hijacked vehicles that are not sold to buyers in South Africa, they will be smuggled out of the country,” the NHPA said.

“These vehicles will be sold in our neighbouring countries or trade and can be exchanged for drugs.”

The NHPA report also added that syndicate hijacking is the most organised of its kind and often has international connections.

“A network of hijacking groups is established with the overall co-ordinator, syndicating out work so that he remains out of view in the same way as the drug baron uses pushers.”

This modus operandi makes identifying and arresting the “ultimate boss” very difficult.

The NHPA said another challenge to halting these syndicates in their tracks was that they were often equipped with vast amounts of money, especially if there are international links, and are therefore also able to bribe the authorities in order to protect their operations.

The Institute for Security Studies’ governance, crime and justice division head Gareth Newham agrees with the NHPA findings relating to hijacking syndicates.

“Most hijackings are connected to organised criminal syndicates,” he said.

He told the Saturday Star this week that hijacking syndicates were not new to the crime scene.

“Hijacking has been a problem for many years. The key factors are the existence of organised crime syndicates who are able to process hijacked cars and resell them locally and internationally, the high level of corruption in the criminal justice system, border control and transport-related departments, and of course the availability of young men who are willing to commit hijackings.”

He said hijackings had increased by 73% since 2012.

“This means that there were an additional 6908 hijackings in 2017/18 than in 2011/12 or an additional 19 hijackings every day on average.”

Meanwhile, both the NHPA as well as Tracker released information about when hijackings were most likely to occur.

The NHPA analysis found that hijackings took place every day but Fridays were when motorists were most at risk. They attributed this to traffic increasing earlier on this day and the relaxed nature of drivers ahead of the weekend.

“Weekends show a lower hijacking rate due to syndicates checking their stock and placing orders on Mondays as well as the fact that there are fewer vehicles on the road,” the NHPA said.

“This also explains why Tuesdays and Wednesdays show more hijackings.”

These findings were backed up by Tracker’s data which revealed that most of their activations for hijackings took place on a Friday between 11am and 1pm, followed by 8pm and 11pm.

The NHPA found hijackers observed human and driver behaviour and often pounced on unsuspecting motorists in the mornings from 6am when they leave their houses for work or school.

There is then a drastic increase in hijackings from 5pm when people were returning from work are often tired, frustrated and not alert to potentially threatening circumstances.

Both the NHPA and Tracker found Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape as the provinces which encounter the most vehicle crime.

While motorists might not always be able to avoid a hijacking, they are urged to be more aware of their surroundings.

“Many people go about their regular driving activity on auto-pilot without much awareness or consideration for what is going on around them,” Tracker SA executive operational services Ron Knott-Craig said.

“To avoid being an easy target, you need to stay alert and be vigilant.”

Meanwhile, AA spokesperson Layton Beard believes law enforcement authorities are doing what they can but also agreed that they need more resources.

He said a strengthened a economy would also contribute to a decrease in hijackings and other crimes.

The Saturday Star