Hijacking syndicates are taking South African vehicles across the border into neighbouring countries like Mozambique, Swaziland, Eswatini, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Speaking to ENCA, crime expert Calvin Rafadi said that car smuggling is being assisted by SAPS officials who are in collusion with border patrols. These officials assist the criminals in fulfilling the necessary documents to clear the cars across the border.
The South African Police Service’s (SAPS) latest crime statistics show that 5,866 hijackings were reported across the country between April and June 2022 – a 14% increase from the 5,146 hijackings reported over the same period in 2021.
This year-on-year increase in hijacking reports means that a car is estimated to be stolen every 22 minutes in South Africa.
Vehicle tracking company Tracker said that car theft is up 7% nationally by volume, with hijackings up 4% over the previous review period.
“The elevation can partly be attributed to increased vehicle usage following a return to work and more numerous social occasions, as well as new modus operandi on the part of criminals and crime syndicates, such as keyless access theft,” said Tracker.
Rafadi said that the ratio to which hijackings occur and a vehicle is actually recovered is very low. Crime syndicates dedicated to stealing vehicles receive orders for a certain type of car; such orders are then fulfilled by ‘foot soldiers’ based in South Africa.
Once a car has made it across the border, either through the normal border post or through a hole cut in the fence, the syndicates are paid in foreign currency or illicit goods such as chemicals to make drugs or tobacco.
He said that luxury vehicles or big SUVs are the most common that get smuggled, and orders are put out for them, whereas smaller sedans or cars such as the VW polo will sometimes remain in the country and be sold domestically.
The graph below shows the steady increase in the number of hijackings over a decade:
In-depth insight provided by SABC News found that these syndicates are extremely violent and, in some cases, kidnap those who may be in the car. Victims’ movements are often tracked so that criminals can predict the best time to take a vehicle.
According to an anonymous ex-car smuggler, members of the syndicate often carry two identification documents so as to fool border patrols and deny involvement in a crime.
What is targetted
Security group Fidelity reported that the most often targeted vehicles are Toyota and Volkswagens, with targeted models including:
- Toyota Hilux
- Volkswagen Polo
- Toyota Quantum
- Nissan NP200
On top of those mentioned by Fidelity, crime expert Rafadi mentioned the following:
- Toyota Fortuner
- Toyota Etios
- Toyota Yaris
- Ford Ranger
- Ford Figo
- Nissan Navara
When and where
Security and car tracking company Tracker said that hijackings occur the most from Wednesday to Friday between 16:00 to 20:00. Whereas vehicle theft where the driver is not in the car occurs the most on Saturdays between 11h00 and 15h00.
SAPS reported Gauteng to be the hijacking hotspot of South Africa, with 3,113 between April and June of this year. KwaZulu-Natal follows suit with 913 and then the Western Cape, 754.
Mpumalanga was the only province to record a decline in hijackings, reported SAPS.
The police service listed the following stations as the top 10 hijacking hotspots:
- Nyanga, Western Cape
- Philippi East, Western Cape
- Harare, Western Cape
- Moroka, Gauteng
- Sandringham, Gauteng
- Midrand, Gauteng
- Vosloorus, Gauteng
- Alexandra, Gauteng
- Pinetown, KwaZulu- Natal
- Kempton Park – Gauteng
How to prevent
While vehicle theft levels remain concerning, there are steps that can be taken to try to avoid becoming a victim, says Tracker. The following tips have been provided to assist you in safeguarding your vehicle:
- Should you have a keyless access vehicle, invest in a secure Faraday pouch (also known as a fob guard) to store your key fob. Lined with layers of metallic material, this pouch helps block key fob signals, thereby preventing criminals from intercepting the signal.
- If the front of your home and your vehicle are easily accessible, for instance, in high-density or cluster-style living environments, try to store your key fob as far away from the access point and your car’s location as possible, to minimise the possibility of amplifying the key fob signal and allowing criminals to access your vehicle.
- If your car does not park securely behind a locked gate or in a garage when parked at home, try to park a car requiring a key behind your keyless car to ensure it cannot be driven away without increased effort.
- You could also consider deactivating the keyless entry function.
- Ensure that your doors are locked before walking away from your parked car. For cars requiring key entry, always double-check by lifting the handle once you have locked the doors – remote jamming as a modus operandi continues to gain popularity in criminal circles.
- When parking, choose a well-lit area and, if possible, an area with cameras monitoring the parking area and pedestrian activity around your vehicle.
- Use a steering wheel lock. Although they are considered ‘old-school’, they can be effective as a visual deterrent.
- Install an immobiliser. While many cars have factory-fitted immobilisers, there is merit in having an additional system installed.
- Install CCTV to watch over your car when parked in your driveway, and add a motion detector light. Both can act as a deterrent and provide additional peace of mind.