The South African authorities are investigating sophisticated crime syndicates who have been involved in a series of kidnappings over recent years.
These organisations have specifically targeted affluent members of South Africa’s Indian Muslim community, and have recently also turned their attention to Pakistani, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Zimbabwean and Mozambican nationals who live in the country.
According to Red24, an international kidnapping monitoring organisation, prominent South Africans from other demographic groupings could also soon become the next target of these criminal operations, which are also suspected of being assisted by corrupt members of the police.
These crime rings are run by foreign nationals who demand multi-million rand ransoms for the release of their captives, and insist that the payments – one as high as R50-million – be made in foreign countries to avoid detection.
Apprehensions by the police thus far have, therefore, been limited, and compounded by the mimicking of the crime trend by smaller so-called “copy-cat” syndicates.
Expected to comprise mainly locals, these small operators are just as aggressive and brutal; threatening victims and their families with violent repercussions should they alert the authorities. This is another reason why so many of these kidnappings have largely gone unnoticed for so long.
More than 30 foreigners living in the country have been seized by these syndicates since 2016, and the police are officially investigating just more than 20 cases that occurred over the past 18 months.
They are being scrutinised by a special division that has been established by the Hawks and the South African Police Services, considering the severity of the situation.
These include an investigation into those operators behind the highly-publicised kidnapping of a business man from Eldorado Park. Police rescued him at one of seven properties that were raided and in an operation which led to seven people being arrested.
Moreover, authorities are scrutinising the assignation of a Pakistani man, who is suspected to have headed the financing section of one of two rivalling kidnapping syndicates.
These incidences follow the kidnapping of the owner of a Home Hyper City in Tshwane outside his business late last year. He was released in December after being held, handcuffed and shackled for 137 days.
The perpetrators also burnt out his Mercedes-Benz vehicle, valued at about R600 000, to avoid leaving a trail of evidence.
Earlier, a businessman was kidnapped in Cape Town and was eventually released weeks after the incident. Although he has denied paying any ransom, authorities believe that as much as R20-million could have changed hands to ensure his safe release.
In December‚ Limpopo police rescued a Thohoyandou businessman while his kidnapping was in progress. Fortunately, he was not harmed, but this incident also demonstrates the extent of the criminal footprint in the country.
Meanwhile, the Institute for Security Studies has warned that the country may even become Africa’s next kidnapping hotspot, noting with concern that three prominent abductions take place in the country every month.
The situation is so dire that the British government has even warned its citizens, who can be perceived as being wealthier than locals, of this real threat when visiting the country. This follows the abduction of a South African-British couple in KwaZulu-Natal earlier this year.
Since January this year, at least eight prominent foreign business people have been kidnapped in the country and held for large ransoms, with one of the victims even murdered.
Among these is the kidnapping of a Polish businesswoman outside her hotel in Sandton. Released near OR Tambo International Airport, she was held for a ransom of about R30-million, and a large portion of this sum of money was actually paid over to the perpetrators.
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