South African kidnappings for ransom increase at an alarming rate

“Members of the community also need to play their part. Very often they know who’s involved in these crimes and they need to blow the whistle on them,” Yusuf Abramjee, an anti-crime activist, told theGrio.

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Many African nations are facing a kidnapping ransom crisis, including South Africa, which has seen a high rate of kidnapping cases in recent months. This comes as the Biden-Harris administration is finding ways to promote peace, stability and economic growth in Africa.

In December, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with African presidents during the U.S.–Africa Leaders Summit to strengthen ties between the United States and the African continent in order to combat challenges plaguing the continent.  

President Joe Biden shakes hands with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Last year, Biden and Harris met with embattled South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Washington D.C. to strengthen ties between the two nations. Ramaphosa faces threats of impeachment following accusations that he was involved in a 2020 kidnapping and bribery scandal.

Aside from President Ramaphosa’s potential involvement in the kidnapping scandal, authorities reported that the country saw more than 4,000 kidnapping for ransom cases from July 2022 to September 2022, double the 2021 rate for the same time period, AFP reported.

“The figures for this year are the highest ever recorded in history,” anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee told theGrio. “[Assailants] do not hesitate to harm, torture or kill and they often target foreigners visiting or living in the country, South African nationals and citizens from either India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Somalia or Ethiopia.”

Abramjee said organized crime gangs are to blame for the uptick in kidnapping cases, explaining, “They are highly skilled, they have spotters, they have people [assigned] to taking the victims, they have communicators and negotiators and are heavily armed.”

South African Flag,
A member of the crowd flies the flag of South Africa on day two of the Dubai Rugby Sevens (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

He warned that copycat gangs are also a threat to the South African community: “These gangs go for the so-called quick buck and quick cash. They’ll demand anything from 50,000 rands ($2,889.12 USD) to half a million rand ($28,891.24 USD).”

On Oct. 5, 2022, the U.S. Department of State issued a level 2 travel advisory for Americans to “exercise increased caution in South Africa due to crime and civil unrest” including “robbery, rape, carjacking, mugging and protests.”

During a press conference on Nov. 23, 2022, South African Minister of Police Bheki Cele told reporters that combating the spike in kidnappings is a top priority.

“We looked into the circumstances around when the kidnapping happened, and most of the circumstances were attributable to hijacking related…when a vehicle is being hijacked, the driver is also taken along and then maybe dumped somewhere at a later stage,” said Cele.

Abramjee told theGrio earlier this year the police set up an anti-kidnapping task team and that “they’ve made some good inroads.” He added, “a number of criminal syndicates and kingpins have been arrested, but a number of them are still on the prowl.”

According to South Africa’s News24, on Dec. 22, 2022, two brothers who migrated from Thailand to South Africa were kidnapped. The suspects then contacted the brothers’ family and demanded ransom for their safety. Two days after the abduction, one brother was rescued; however, the other brother was discovered to have died while in captivity.

A South African soldier responds to looting on July 13, 2021 at a shopping centre in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. South Africa has deployed the military to quell spasms of civil unrest and looting sparked by last week’s imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma. The unrest is also fueled by high unemployment and social and economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit the country hard. (Photo by James Oatway/Getty Images)

That same month, Kevin Soal, a well-known Midrand businessman was kidnapped and allegedly forced to make several monetary transactions from his account. He was then transported to a secluded area and shot execution-style, the Times Live reported.

In 2005, British actor Benedict Cumberbatch was kidnapped while filming “To the Ends of the Earth” in KwaZulu-Natal, a coastal city located south of Johannesburg. Cumberbatch told The Hollywood Reporter that while he and friends were driving back to the film’s set after spending a weekend diving, the front-right tire blew. When they tried to replace the tire, six armed men aggressively approached them.

“They were like: ‘Look down! Look down! Put your hands on your heads! Look at the floor!’ And they started frisking us and said: ‘Where’s your money? Where’re your drugs,” he informed The Hollywood Reporter.

Cumberbatch and his friends were then abducted and thrown into a vehicle. At some point during his capture, the assailants dropped him off in the middle of nowhere at night. Cumberbatch said he feared for his life and thought he could be raped or tortured. Unlike other kidnapping victims, the actor survived the ordeal.

According to the South African Police Service, for more than a decade kidnapping cases have steadily increased and Abramjee believes that is because South Africans are not speaking up.

“Members of the community also need to play their part. Very often they know who’s involved in these crimes and they need to blow the whistle on them,” he said.

He continued, “And we’ve also seen that with some of the kidnappings, when the ransom money is paid by the families, they decide not to pursue [justice] because they fear for their lives.”

Abramjee warned anyone who plans to visit or reside in South Africa to “always be on alert” and if they witness a kidnapping to “come forward.”

“Police have the skills and knowledge with the help of the private sector to bring these kidnappings to [an end],” he said.

TheGrio reached out to the White House about the matter but did not receive comment at the time of this publication.

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