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South Africa ranks sixth globally in kidnap-for-ransom cases

Azra Hoosen |
10 June 2024 | 11:30 CAT
2 min read

Statistics confirm what many South Africans have experienced first-hand: a dramatic increase in kidnap-for-ransom incidents. The country now ranks sixth globally in the prevalence of such crimes.

Notably, the highest ransom paid so far has been R150 million for one individual’s release, with another case involving a R72 million extortion for the release of a wealthy individual or their family member.

Criminologist Dr Simon Howell discussed these trends in an interview with Radio Islam.

Both local and international organised crime syndicates are involved. These groups often target families of victims and may surveil them for up to six months before abducting.

Howell believes that these actions have become more complex and organised, with a growing involvement of international syndicates.

“It is a difficult crime to police in a proactive way; police agencies are often on their back foot with this. It is realised in South Africa, it is easy to do, and the gains are quite high, which makes it attractive for that reason,” he said.

Howell highlighted that South Africans are increasingly playing a significant role in international business, making them more frequent targets for international syndicates.

High net-worth individuals and their families are particularly targeted, with kidnappers demanding and often receiving millions in ransom.

Howell noted that it is difficult to measure the extent of success or gauge failure from an external perspective, as people often keep these incidents quiet.

“There are successes, ironically not known because of the nature of the crime; it’s not advertised. It is often covert and kept close to people’s chests,” he added.

Many kidnappings go unreported due to threats. Kidnappings occur in both wealthy suburbs and low-income areas, with recent trends showing an increase in low-income regions.

According to Howell, South Africa tends to have high-profile kidnappings involving high-value targets, whereas kidnappings occur more broadly and frequently across the rest of Africa.

“But it’s often for young girls to be sex-trafficked or the like, so as a result, doesn’t have the same status in the media or are reported as much,” he said.

Experts emphasise the need to dismantle and disrupt criminal networks through targeted investigations, intelligence-driven operations, and forensics to curb kidnappings.

LISTEN to the full interview with Ml S. Ravat and Criminologist Dr Simon Howell, here.


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