Johannesburg – Kidnapping and extortion are rife in South Africa with people entering the crime on various levels. From high-profile cases, where substantial amounts of money are demanded, to hostage situations in lower-income communities. In 2021 there were many high-profile kidnappings in the country leading to government and security forces working together to eradicate this crime.
Mike Bolhuis, a specialist investigator, says although the police have had breakthroughs in kidnapping cases, more can be done.
“Unfortunately, not much [breakthroughs]. Usually, the kidnappings [regarding extremely wealthy people], it is sorted out when people pay the ransom, and the family member is released. It is very seldom that the police, including ourselves, are successful in such a way that we could have prevented it and or caught the criminals that were involved and get the person back all in one. We have done quite a few kidnapping cases and we have been successful so that is some good news.”
To get kidnapping cases under control and put those who are responsible behind bars, Bolhuis said the police have created a special task force.
“The police have recently created a highly specialised nationwide unit specifically dealing with the spate of kidnappings and this unit has been successful as well. Since the Moti kids were kidnapped, it was quite a unique case, four young children that were taken, it has moved the country in such a way that from the government to the safety and security industries, the authorities and the police have come to a point where they have created this highly specialised, nationwide unit to deal with that. That has brought about some success and has been of a deterrence.”
While kidnapping occurrences have slowed down, Bolhuis reminds that it could increase at any time as kidnapping is a crime that takes time to plan. Unfortunate kidnappings are a paying crime. In most cases families pay the ransom and this leads to more occurrences as criminals see it as a quick way to make money. The only way such a crime can be stopped is to ensure there is more risk than reward.
“Crime will only stop when it is not successful, and it is foiled by us or the police.”
Putting an end to such a crime is no easy task. “Corruption in the police” makes it a challenging task. Although there are good officers in law enforcement, Bolhuis believes they are outnumbered by how many corrupt ones are in the system making “it hard to defeat an evil when its supporters exist within your own ranks”.
“Unfortunately, the safety and security infrastructure in South Africa is in a dire situation and unfortunately corruption in the police is high, in our opinion. This does not mean that there are no good police officers. There are very good policemen but unless the police in its totality don’t work together, operate together, the good officers have difficulty in doing the job and the criminals knows this. [They] take advantage of this and that’s why criminals flourish in South Africa because crime can be committed, and you can get away with it and it pays.”
The keys to crime prevention in a “crime ridden country” – being vigilant and alert.
“All South Africans, no matter who you are, should be vigilant… You can just walk, and your phone could be grabbed, your handbag could be grabbed, somebody can just beat you up, someone can hold you for a couple of hours and withdraw all your money out of the ATM.”
The three softest targets for criminals are children, women, and the elderly. It is imperative, says Bolhuis, to always have people around should you fall into those categories as it can deter criminals from making you their next victim.
“Avoid nights, operate during the day, and make sure that you always plan your complete movement, always. Do not get into a routine, don’t be on your cell phone the whole time, put your cell phone off and make sure you have at least two to three security locks on your phone in case a criminal takes your phone and gets all the information on your phone. People have too much information on their phones. In fact, social media is a disaster because everything happens on digital equipment and electronics and there the criminals get and take and use it to their advantage.”
With regards to high level kidnapping that has been occurring more frequently in the country, Bolhuis warned it doesn’t matter who you are, only what you have.
“Businessmen should be very careful… Any extremely wealthy businessman in South Africa is a target. That includes all races and beliefs. Criminals don’t choose between colour, political affiliations, your beliefs or who and what you are. They only make a decision pertaining to what you have. The kidnapping level, on high level kidnappings, is based on what you have.”
Something that often doesn’t get as much attention as it should be is cybercrime. We publish our entire lives on social media for all to see and while this might be a way to show friends and families how we are doing, it is the perfect way for criminals to track our movements and plan out their perfect crime.