Kidnapping is on the rise in South Africa, Police Minister Bheki Cele warns, and criminal syndicates are not only targeting wealthy business people and their families but also university students.

South Africa has seen a notable 8.6% increase in reported kidnapping cases compared to last year, with 3,854 cases reported between April and June 2023 alone, according to the South African Police Service (SAPS)’s latest crime stats.

In a public briefing note released on Tuesday (26 September), Cele noted the increase in cases, highlighting that these crimes are being committed by kidnapping syndicates targetting selected individuals for means of ransom.

After several arrests, the SAPS noted that these syndicates were targetting business people by luring them in with fake tender proposals.

“An intelligence-driven operation led to the arrest of several suspects who kidnapped the victims for ransom related to municipality tenders,” said the SAPS.

The clients were lured to a house to sign a contract relating to a fake solar geyser project to the value of R17 million, it added.

The SAPS further noted that the suspects, who were dressed in police uniforms, were found holding the victims hostage and demanding an amount of R300,000.

More concerningly, the SAPS further highlighted a trend of these syndicates targetting university students by setting up fake dates via the dating app Grindr.

“A multidisciplinary team led by the Anti-Kidnapping Task Team rescued an 18-year-old Wits University student from a kidnapping syndicate last Wednesday (20 September 2023),” the note said.

Cele noted that the suspects who were arrested have been linked to 56 other kidnappings across South Africa.

Speaking to eNCA, Crime Watch’s Yusuf Abramjee shared his concerns about these incidents, which he said are still continuing at an alarming rate. He noted that while big organised crime syndicates are responsible for the big ransom cases, he added that smaller criminal gangs in and around suburbs are joining in on the trend to make a quick buck.

Abramjee said that these smaller gangs are also the ones responsible for the increase in kidnapping cases in relation to hijackings, where the driver of the vehicle is taken with the car, which security services such as Fidelity have also reported.

Fidelity Services Group CEO Wahl Bartmann said that, in these cases, a ransom is sought, or a victim is forced to make withdrawals from their bank accounts. Sometimes, the victim may be kept until the criminals have been paid for the person’s release or the account has been drawn out to its limit.

Alarmingly, Gauteng police commissioner Elias Mawela recently noted that people are being kidnapped in this manner for as little as R100.

Abramjee noted that Gauteng seems to be a hotspot for student and hijacking kidnappings, while the Eastern Cape has been flagged as an area of concern for high-profile business kidnappings.

He added that many other provinces have reported cases of these kidnappings, but in terms of numbers and of national concern, Gauteng is on top of the list.

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