"...as times become more desperate, and criminals more bold, any person has the potential to become a victim."
Daily life in South Africa is becoming increasingly more difficult. On top of the hardships that come with a struggling economy and loadshedding, there is another concern for South Africans to worry about. Kidnapping is on the rise in South Africa.
This follows an alarming trend observed during 2022. An August 2022 article from IOL stated that in 2022 kidnappings increased by 59%, while hijacking was up by 14%. In South Africa, there is a correlation between these two crimes, with 42% of kidnapping cases linked to hijackings. Kidnapping for ransom and extortion only makes up 5% of kidnapping cases in South Africa.
When it comes to crimes of this nature, the belief is that “It won’t happen to me”. But as times become more desperate, and criminals more bold, any person has the potential to become a victim. These days, having something as commonplace as a cell phone on you (and let’s be honest, that’s almost all of us) is enough to pique a kidnapper’s interest.
WHO IS BEING TARGETED?
In January 2023, the South African Police Service arrested 6 suspects believed to be part of a kidnapping syndicate in Gauteng. This syndicate is linked to 16 kidnapping cases. Police were thankfully able to rescue a businessman who had been kidnapped by the syndicate. During the arrest, five high performance cars, 20 cellphones and 30 GPS devices were also seized.
In the same month, four suspects from Fordsburg were accused of luring a businessman from India. They kidnapped him and extorted money from his family for his safe return.
With the rise in kidnapping cases, Gauteng is now labeled as a kidnapping hotspot. But the rest of the country does not remain unaffected. In August 2022, a six-year-old boy was kidnapped from his home in Cape Town, which was also only 400m from the Hidayatul Islam Primary School he attended. The young boy was safely returned but this highlights the fact that targets are no longer wealthy businessmen. In fact, the boy was not from a wealthy family – his father worked part-time assisting his ill brother-in-law run his small business.
In all three cases, the victims were fortunate in that they were safely returned to their families. But the scary reality is that there are many cases in which kidnappers did not release their victims, instead killing them once they were done.
Police find themselves scrambling to curtail the number of kidnapping incidents. But with insufficient police resources to stop the increase in cases, this is likely a threat that will remain prevalent for some time. How can individuals take preventative measures to avoid becoming the next kidnapping victim?
HOW TO AVOID KIDNAPPING
1. Be aware of your surroundings
Remain vigilant of any suspicious people or movements around you. If you get the sense of something being amiss, get to a place of safety or leave the area as fast as possible. Avoid distractions such as cellphones or music that may hinder your awareness.
2. Lock your car doors
It is good practice to keep car doors locked at all times, but this is especially important while driving in unknown or high risk areas. Caution should also be exercised at intersections. Criminals may use the stopped flow of traffic to their advantage, using it to limit your chance of escape. At intersections, keep windows rolled up.
3. Complete driver safety training
A driver safety program can help improve driving behavior in order to drive more safely. Some driving programs specifically offer training for hijacking avoidance. This can help drivers identify and avoid potential hijackings, protecting themselves and their families.
4. Change your daily travel routes
Routes taken often, such as routes to work or school, should be varied. This makes it harder for criminals to predict your movements. Taking different routes will also allow for less chance of them becoming familiar with your vehicle.
5. Inform someone of your journey
When walking or driving through unfamiliar or high-risk areas, notify someone of your journey. Let them know when you leave, as well as arrive safely at your destination. Sending a live location notification to someone will also allow them to see your location in real-time. Live location tracking will allow them to notice if something seems out of the ordinary.
6. Keep valuables hidden
Any items that may show wealth, even just a cellphone, should be hidden from view so as not to entice criminals.
7. Take caution leaving and entering your property
When entering or leaving your home via garage or electric gate, be vigilant of suspicious people or vehicles in your street. Criminals may block your vehicle or gate, cornering you in your driveway. Never leave garage doors or gates open longer than necessary.
8. Teach children code words
Give your children a code word. If anyone claims to be picking them up from school on your behalf, your children can verify this by asking them for the code word. Children should also be taught not to wander from safe areas, such as leaving school property. If they encounter a person they think is not safe, it is also important that they know to inform an adult as well.
9. Use trusted transportation
Never get into a vehicle of a person you do not know. If making use of an Uber, match the number plates to those stated by the app. Also enquire who they are picking up to verify that they are there for you.
10. Stay informed
With kidnapping on the rise, it is worthwhile to keep up to date on criminal activity. This is especially important in areas considered to be high-risk for kidnapping. Knowing the risks can help you minimise the chance of becoming a victim.
11. Report suspicious activity
If you see or experience something that may indicate a potential kidnapping, inform authorities immediately. If you have been kidnapped or an attempt was made, it is vitally important that it is reported to police. Many kidnapping victims do not go to the police out of fear of the kidnappers. This allows for kidnapping syndicates to continue their operations.
"...the best approach is prevention."
When it comes to kidnapping, the best approach is prevention. Anyone has the potential to become a kidnapping victim, especially in times where more and more people become desperate under a failing economy. Being aware, taking extra precautions and keeping yourself informed can reduce the chances of you or your family falling victim to these crimes.