ISS TODAY OP-ED
South Africa’s police must tackle armed robbery as a means of stamping out kidnappings
Intelligence-driven policing backed by dedicated investigation units and forensics can curb soaring levels of both crimes.
Kidnapping in South Africa is four times higher than 10 years ago. In the last three months of 2022, the latest period for which there are official crime statistics, a daily average of 45 kidnappings were reported to the police.
Kidnapping for ransom or extortion cases are often covered by the media, encouraging the view that this motive drives the substantial rise in these offences. However, fewer than two kidnappings out of the daily average are linked to ransom demands, human trafficking or extortion.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s ‘bloodbath of violent crime remains out of control’, latest police stats reveal
Kidnapping in South Africa is defined as the unlawful intentional deprivation of a person’s freedom of movement; or if the person is a child, the unlawful intentional deprivation of a parent’s control over the child.
During the nine months from April to December 2022, the South African Police Service (SAPS) recorded 11,702 kidnappings, which surpassed the annual figure of 10,826 from March 2021 to April 2022. In the past 10 years, kidnappings rocketed by 183% from 3,832 in 2012/13 to 10,826 in 2021/22. This upsurge is related to the substantial growth of violent and organised crime.
Some abductions are committed by sophisticated transnational groups specialising in high-value kidnappings. Local crime groups may carry out copycat attacks when they see the success of high-profile kidnappings.
This is one of the findings of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime’s 2022 Strategic Organised Crime Risk Assessment for South Africa. However, these types of kidnappings are relatively uncommon.
The SAPS Crime Registrar’s office routinely analyses the motives for kidnappings in each province across the country. Their analysis shows that most attacks are perpetrated during car or truck hijackings or armed robberies at businesses, homes or public spaces. The main motives for abducting victims during these robberies include stealing cash via mobile banking applications drawn from bank cards, overriding tracking devices, or delaying the victim from raising the alarm.
While this causative analysis was omitted from the most recent October to December 2022 SAPS quarterly crime statistics, Chart 1 shows the motives behind kidnapping cases reported to police between April and September 2022.
Source: Combined quarter one and two 2022/23 SAPS presentations
The analysis shows that of the 6,357 (84%) cases sampled from the 7,578 kidnappings reported to police during these six months, 45% were committed during a hijacking and 18.5% during another type of robbery.
This means that almost two-thirds (63%) can be linked to armed robberies (Chart 2). A further 10% are related to sexual assaults and rape. Seven per cent are associated with retaliation or revenge attacks, often by gangs or rival groups. Kidnapping linked to ransom, extortion or human trafficking comprised just 285 cases — or less than 5% of the total.
The 2021/22 annual crime statistics highlighted a 25% increase in carjackings over 12 months, reaching 20 923 cases. This amounts to an 87% increase in the past decade. The 1,741 truck hijackings recorded in the same period also represent a 25% increase in a year.
In the nine months of the 2022/23 financial year for which statistics are available, 17,623 carjackings and 1,563 truck jackings have been recorded. Compared to the 2021/22 annual data, these nine-month figures already represent 84% of carjackings and 90% of truck jackings, indicating continued increases in the coming months. This increase in armed robberies is undoubtedly driving the escalation in kidnappings.
The occurrence of kidnappings is not evenly spread across the country. From April to September 2022, more than half of the attacks were reported in Gauteng (4,013 or 53%), South Africa’s economic heartland. Of these, three out of four (74.5%) were linked to armed robbery, mostly hijacking (60%) or other robberies (15%). During this period, over half of carjackings and almost 60% of truck jackings recorded in South Africa occurred in Gauteng.
Provincial kidnapping task teams formed to investigate mainly high-profile kidnapping for ransom or extortion cases have had several successes. But a different approach will be needed to reduce kidnapping. If the SAPS could replicate the successful Gauteng Aggravated Robbery Strategy it implemented between 2009 and 2011 — which cut hijackings by 32% in that period — kidnappings would also decrease.
Robberies are committed by relatively few people and can be reduced quickly with focused intelligence-driven policing supported by dedicated investigation units and forensics. The detection, arrest and prosecution of leading syndicate members will disrupt and deter these crimes and substantially curb the number of incidents. That in turn, will boost confidence in the police and reduce levels of fear in communities. DM
Lizette Lancaster, Crime Hub Manager, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria.
Research for this article is funded by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
First published by ISS Today.