After a sharp increase in the number of kidnappings in recent years, South Africa has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world, as reported by Mpho Lakaje from Johannesburg.
Lesego Tau did not panic when a stranger opened the back door of his gray Mercedes C-Class and entered.
He parked outside a shopping mall in Johannesburg and focused on texting a friend before picking up some things for a meeting that night.
In my rearview mirror I looked and still thought, ‘This person will be embarrassed when they realize they are in the wrong car,’ he told the BBC, recounting the events of last June.
But this is not an innocent mistake. “Our eyes met and I understood what was happening.” This is a kidnapping.
Six months earlier, businessman Yasin Bhiku had been abducted from the driveway of his home near Johannesburg just after returning from the mosque.
CCTV footage, which was widely shared on social media, shows Mr Bhiku wearing a blue T-shirt and black pants, calmly chatting with a friend.
Two men can be seen getting out of a car parked opposite. They first approached him and then rushed at him after Mr. found out. Bhiku what was happening and tried to run away.
He was overpowered and forced into the vehicle while being shot. The businessman was later found safe and sound and rescued by the police.
Ms Tau, who runs her own cleaning business in Pretoria, also tried to flee when she learned she was about to be abducted.
He said he tried to open the door of his car, but another man, dressed as a parking attendant and wearing a hi-vis jacket, barricaded the door.
The man in the back seat showed he had a gun and ordered Ms Tau to drive out of the shopping complex. On the way, he was stopped and someone else jumped into his car.
A four hour trial
Once in the countryside, after nearly 15 km of this frightening journey, the kidnappers ordered Mrs Tau to stop. A red car came to the scene and someone got off, took his bank cards and forced him to reveal his security codes.
“The other in the car … started going through all my different cards. They were leaving [de l’argent]”.
At the same time, he was repeatedly shot in the head by his captors, ordering him to raise his withdrawal limit.
The test lasted more than four hours.
At one point, he heard someone on the other end of the line say to him, ‘Finish him. We’re done. ‘”I thought they were going to kill me, but I thought, I have to fight. I have something to fight. If they kill me, they might fight me too,” Ms Tau said.
He tried to get out of the car, but the kidnappers grabbed him and started to strike and scratch him. He ran away and crossed the road against oncoming traffic. This story and by Mr. Bhiku is not isolated.
In February, Police Minister Bheki Cele announced that 2,605 kidnapping cases had been reported to authorities in the last three months of 2021.
In the decade since 2010, kidnappings have more than doubled in South Africa and there are now 10 kidnappings per 100,000 people, according to the South African think tank Institute for Security Studies.
In 2018, Mr. Cele promised to make the fight against kidnappings a priority.
Victims are detained against their will, either for ransom, to empty their bank accounts, or to be sexually assaulted.
Some are not exposed alive, although it is not clear how common this outcome is.
In an attempt to tackle this type of crime, the police have set up a special kidnapping team, which combines intelligence gathering and tactical intervention.
Crime syndicates target South Africa
One thing that has been established is that kidnappers tend to work in teams and kidnappings follow a pattern, with each gang member having a specific role, police spokeswoman Colonel Athlenda Mathe said. , on the BBC.
“Lookers are those who follow the target. Pickers are those who move to kidnap the victim.” The kidnappers often drive high performance vehicles and are often armed.
“Then we have guards who will take over and watch over the victim… until a ransom is paid.” But in the background there is a brain that does extensive research and pulling strings.
“A boss is someone who leads a high-end life and doesn’t do dirty work”, Colonel Mathe explains.
These criminals have tentacles in countries like neighboring Mozambique and as far as Pakistan.
They often prey on wealthy businessmen who have a way to pay a ransom, but some victims come from poor backgrounds and children are not rescued.
According to Gérard Labuschagne, private hostage negotiator, there has been an increase in cases of very high value. Ransomies could reach $ 3 million.
“Organized groups operating in Mozambique and other parts of Africa have decided, for one reason or another, that South Africa is ripe for this type of crime and they are engaging in it with great success”, said Mr. Labuschagne.
Some social commentators believe that general lawlessness has made South Africa attractive to organized criminals from around the world.
In the face of public outrage, police acknowledged that there was more to be done, but Colonel Mathe said they had moved forward: “Since recognizing these unions, we have arrested 115 suspects, made up of Pakistanis, Mozambicans and as well as South Africans. “
One of the suspects was Faizel Charloos, 43, who was arrested in March. He is the alleged mastermind of a series of recent kidnappings.
During police raids on several Johannesburg properties associated with him, drugs, money and a powerful vehicle were recovered.
Mr. Charloos recently appeared in court, along with several other people, on kidnapping charges. He had no comment.
He appears to have dual South African and Mozambican nationality.
Police were unable to rescue the victims
In another case, in April, police were able to rescue a four -year -old girl who was abducted from a school in Johannesburg by a woman posing as her nanny.
His captors had previously demanded thousands of dollars to get him back safely and securely.
But four people were arrested when they came outside a shopping mall to take the ransom.
Despite these advances, Mr. Labuschagne was not convinced that the police were winning.
“We have one or two arrests. But in the vast majority of these cases, the police do not rescue the victims from where they are being held. They are released after paying.”
Ms Tau was lucky to escape, but her captors took $ 1,400 (£ 1,100) from her.
This trial caused him psychological damage and caused his family to distress.
“My father was not a crying man, but he had tears in his eyes. He kept thinking he could protect me.
“There’s always a part of me that died that day.”