The number of kidnapping cases in South Africa has climbed exponentially, according to a new report by the City Press, with gangs earning more than R1 billion last year alone.
A South African Police Service general told the paper that the police are being overwhelmed by the rise in kidnappings, which are a threat to the country’s national security.
“The families of victims never report the crimes as they are threatened not to do so,” said the general. “In most cases, families of victims simply choose to pay the ransom and never involve the police.”
Worryingly, National police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo said that several police officers have been arrested for colluding with kidnappers.
“But I cannot tell you the number as I do not know it,” Naidoo said.
The City Press claimed that the number of police officers arrested was “at least 14”.
The SAPS general said that wealthy South Africans, and foreign nationals – particularly those of Asian origin, as well as those from neighbouring countries, are targeted.
People in South Africa allegedly arrange fraudulent documents for foreigners wanting to travel to the country, and once they’ve crossed the border, these foreigners are flagged by police.
“That is how they get kidnapped. The abductors contact their families in Asia, demanding a ransom for their release.”
Kidnappers frequently ask for over R1 million, said the general, and almost always want the ransom to be paid in Dubai via the Hawala banking system – a controversial international remittance system that allegedly is often used to launder money and finance terrorism.
In recent months, ordinary citizens, including children, have also been targeted, due to copycats, and ‘opportunistic kidnappings’.
Reported police statistics show that about 16 people are kidnapped or abducted in South Africa daily.
City Press said that kidnappings will continue to rise because victims’ families are willing to pay the ransoms.
It noted that the police are woefully staffed to deal with this trend, with only five members in the kidnapping unit, citing the anonymous general.
“The capacity of the crime intelligence team is small and wholly insufficient to investigate such a big national threat,” said the general.
“Kidnappings are on the rise, but we are more reactive than proactive because we are always forced to deal with kidnappings that have already taken place.”
“There is a lack of investigation capacity and most of the cases are not going anywhere in court.”