Protest against clemency for kidnappers (Johannesburg, July 2022): Kidnapping is a business in South Africa
Photo: Gallo Images / Gallo Images via Getty Images
On the morning of September 29, 35-year-old Ukrainian Anichka Penev was driving her yellow Audi sports car down Ipswich Road in Cape Town when a white Toyota crossed her in front of her.
A Ford Fiesta closed up from behind.
Seconds later, six armed men dragged the resisting woman out of the car and forcibly carried her into the Ford. They then drove away.
The scene was caught by a security camera and went viral in South Africa.
The case of the Ukrainian, possibly the wife of a factory owner, highlights a nuisance that is rampant in South Africa: kidnappings carried out by organized gangs are becoming more common.
The number of commercial kidnappings rose from 2010 to 2020 by 133 percent to around 6,000 cases per year.
But that is nothing compared to the current development: the number of cases increased by 109 percent in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the previous year.
A whopping doubling of the number of cases, which continue to rise steeply – the rate of increase has increased tenfold compared to the past decade.
The next quarterly statement is likely to be even worse.
Currently, 38 people go missing in South Africa every day, and the trend is rising.
The kidnapping wave in South Africa, which has been going on for years, seems to be out of control.
This is also putting pressure on Reagan Allen, who has only been Minister for Police Supervision and Community Security in the Cape Province since April 2022.
"We don't want this to become an international embarrassment," Allen told the South African news website Independent Online on Monday.
“This issue could have a significant impact on the number of tourists visiting our coasts or companies investing in the province.
Which in turn has a negative impact on our economy and thus on the creation of jobs.«
Allen started in April with the claim to reform the South African Police Services (SAPS) at least in his province.
Calls for a liquidation of the SAPS, which is seen as inefficient, repeatedly accused of corruption and which has failed to get the number of murders and kidnappings under control, were countered by Allen with a reform program he called the Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (Leap)« , called »Leap« for short.
The Penev case and the continued unchecked increase in kidnapping cases are his disgrace.
From this perspective, it is particularly embarrassing that the current cases seem like confirmations of the last South Africa risk study published in September 2022 by the "Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime".
Even the first sentence has a deterrent effect: "Organized crime is an existential threat to South Africa's democratic institutions, economy and population."
Again and again: violence against children
More and more citizens see it that way.
What frightens the public is the audacity and brutality with which this is done.
On August 17, six gunmen kidnapped six-year-old Shanawaaz Ashgar from parents who were about to drive him to school.
When they tried to defend themselves, the perpetrators pressed a pistol to the child's head.
The fact that the patrol officers, whom the father, who was chasing the perpetrators, approached, then met with complete incomprehension from the public, refused to help.
They wanted to take a look at the crime scene first.
After all: two days later the boy was free again, probably on payment of a large ransom.
Because that's what it's all about in most cases.
The target of the kidnappings are usually higher earners, most of the victims are women, often children.
Sexual abuse of victims is common.
The kidnapping of men is rarer, perhaps because they could defend themselves more - which sometimes ends badly, as a case in early September showed.
Three gunmen tried to kidnap a businessman outside his company in Cape Town on the morning of September 9th.
When his resistance was too strong, they shot him and fled.
This is not uncommon, experts say, but nobody seems to know how common it actually is: there are no separate statistics on how many victims do not survive their kidnapping.
Another development gives cause for concern.
Sometimes kidnappings happen seemingly spontaneously and because of comparatively small sums of money, the perpetrators literally »pick« their victims off the street.
In June, gangsters kidnapped Lesego Tau, a young woman from Pretoria.
When parking in the parking lot of a shopping center, a perpetrator suddenly tore open one of the doors and sat in the back seat.
At gunpoint, he forced the woman to drive to a remote commercial area where two other men were waiting.
They ransacked her wallet, stole money from her credit cards with mobile devices, and repeatedly hit her with guns for nearly five hours.
When the cards reached their limit, a perpetrator asked a second to shoot the woman.
She managed to fight free and escape from the car.
She escaped and survived by running across a road directly into oncoming traffic.
The men's haul: under $1,000.
Cases like these frighten the South African public because they show that anyone can potentially become a victim.
While in recent years there have been major reports on cases involving rich kidnappers whose families were often confronted with demands for ransom in the millions, we now know that the perpetrators sometimes work for small change.
A victim is appraised, and if it only seems "worth" $8,000, no more is asked for.
It's like the discounter: the mass makes it profitable.
The perpetrators often act in broad daylight and are often filmed by cameras.
They don't seem to care, probably for good reason: the number plates on the vehicles involved in the crime are usually stolen or forged, and many of the perpetrators are unlikely to be on record.
Because many of them, South Africa's police authorities believe, come from neighboring countries.
For a number of years they have been trying to solve the problem with special units and specialized investigative task forces.
Raids against kidnapping gangs in recent years have shown that they are often internationally networked and manned: South Africans, perpetrators from Mozambique, various other African countries and even Pakistan were arrested.
It now seems clear that many of the gangs are controlled by international syndicates.
Commentators in the South African media are now increasingly calling for appropriate international cooperation and help - not least because the wave of kidnappings is now noticeably damaging the important tourism business.
However, part of the problem also seems to be that the various police authorities are not cooperating sufficiently with one another.
After the kidnapping of Ukrainian Anichka Penev, representatives of the South African Police Services (SAPS) made a public offer to support local police forces.
Because Cape Town affords its own special unit against kidnappings - which would be okay if they were sufficiently networked with the national investigators.
But that is exactly what is apparently still lacking.
On Monday, Jean-Pierre Smith, who is responsible for security on the Cape Town City Council, appealed to politicians: In order to get the problem under control, the help of international experts and intelligence-based information is needed.
There is still no trace of Anichka Penev. A special unit for kidnappings and murders has taken over the investigation.
A ransom demand of five million rand (approx. 282,000 euros) is said to have been received on Friday, but the woman's family denies this: speculation about the ransom amounts or what Anichka Penev's car may have cost are "harmful".
Because misjudgments about the value of a victim can be deadly.
When the parents of eight-year-old Lukhololwam Mkontwana were unable to pay the ransom for their son in mid-September, the perpetrators killed the child.
Around 5600 euros had been demanded.