Kidnapping and extortion are on the rise in South Africa, considering the growing discrepancy between rich and poor, combined with an ineffective and corrupt police services.
This toxic mix has also been behind the alarmingly high incidences of kidnapping and extortion in other African countries.
According to experts, the continent accounts for as much as 36% of all kidnappings and ransoms in the world. This is compared with the Americas, where 27% of these crimes are committed, and Asia, which accounts for 19% of all reported kidnap and ransom cases in the world.
Globally, there are an estimated 15 000 to 20 000 kidnap and extortion incidents every year, but many of them go unreported.
After Nigeria, South Africa is one of the highest risk areas for this type of crime on the continent, and the trend is on the rise.
Worryingly, it continues unabated, despite a decline in these crimes in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, which is another notorious hijacking hotspot on the continent, in addition to Angola and Senegal.
South Africa can learn much from Nigeria, which took drastic measures as early 2016 to counter the scourge. This includes declaring a state of emergency in Kaduna, where there had been a spike in kidnappings at the time, an initiative that was augmented by the establishment of an anti-kidnap squad task to track and locate the criminal gangs suspected of engaging in this criminal behaviour.
Finding up-to-date figures and statistics in South Africa that provides an accurate account of the current situation and trends remains a daunting task, and one has to rely on old data in an attempt to analyse the situation.
According to the South African Police Services (SAPS) statistics, cases of kidnappings in South Africa were up 7,7% from April 2011 to March 2012 versus the previous year. More than 30% of these incidences were committed in Gauteng, the economic hub of the country and southern Africa. For benchmarking purposes, there were a total of 3 521 reported cases of kidnapping in the country in 2001, according to the SAPS.
In a more recent incident, a prominent businessman’s decapitated body was found under a bridge after he was abducted by two suspects who have since been arrested. The 50-year-old managing director of an information technology company and a revered entrepreneur was attacked at an ATM in Claremont, Cape Town.
Many businesses, especially corporates and state-owned companies, are attempting to mitigate this risk, with kidnapping and extortion even being incorporated into their risk-management strategies.
There are basically three different types of kidnapping.
In terms of criminal kidnapping, the motive is to obtain payment of a ransom from family members or businesses. Sometimes, the kidnappers may also take hostages to demand keys or secret codes to secure areas that are used to store cash or other valuables.
The other main motive is to further political agendas. Known as political kidnappings, criminals use the ransom they receive from taking hostages to fund their agendas and activities. Many of these incidences are closely affiliated to global terrorist organisations.
A widely-known case is the kidnapping of young girls from Chibok by Islamic militant organisation, Boko Haram, to negotiate territorial disputes with the Nigerian national government.
When abductions are committed by emotionally or mentally disturbed people, they are known as emotional and pathological kidnappings.
However, the modus operandi is constantly changing. There has also been an increase in “express” kidnappings that entail fast, targeted attacks with shorter periods of detention and smaller ransoms. In other instances, the cases have been protracted and the kidnappers extremely patient in their approach.
All of these examples are extremely traumatic for the victims, while significant monetary losses can be incurred due to ransom payments, business interruption, litigation, adverse publicity and long-term reputational damage.
Working with security specialists, organisations need to first carefully assess the level of risks to determine the best response to the threat.
Usually, professionals in industries, such as construction, energy, financial institutions, utilities and communications, are most at risk.
There are many obvious targets, not least of which are those company executives and representatives travelling to countries known for having a high incidence of kidnapping.
Kidnappers are also on the scout for executives and managers who control significant amounts of cash or valuables, as well as company representatives who have high financial profiles and a professional standing. Members of their family, especially children, are also usually targeted.
Meanwhile, security personnel handling large amounts of cash or valuables should also be considered as high risk members of organisations.
Importantly, security experts work with their clients to provide a threat assessment in areas where the company intends operating. They are then able to decide on the personal protection services that are required throughout the duration of the event, function or trip.
Havensec Solutions’ clients know that awareness of the threat is the first important step to mitigating the risk, and have turned to a leader in the field to help secure their homes and workspaces.
The company has responded to a growing need for executive protection and personal bodyguard services. Importantly, its team consists of highly trained and qualified personnel who maintain a low profile to protect the image of clients when carrying out their duties.
Among other services, Havensec Solutions provides an electronic debugging service for offices and homes.
Its Sweep Teams conduct a detailed physical search, a service that is complemented by the use of advanced technical debugging equipment. These skilled teams have been trained by retired military counter-intelligence personnel and by the original-equipment manufacturers from which top-of-the-range debugging equipment has been procured.