Everybody has a price in South Africa’s booming kidnapping-for-ransom market

By Chris Steyn

Herman Bosman, the Kidnapping and Crisis Incident Manager at TSU International, spoke to BizNews about the steep increase in kidnappings, particularly of high-net-worth individuals. This has already led to companies abruptly closing their doors and leaving the country. In this interview, Bosman warns that the damaging effect on the economy is being underestimated and calls for drastic measures to stop the situation from getting completely out of control. Meanwhile, he shared some tips people can use to better prevent themselves from becoming kidnap victims.

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Twenty to thirty years ago, kidnapping-for-ransom was something South Africans saw only in the movies.

But now, the country has become one of the world’s kidnapping hot spots.

Bosman, shared some of the latest developments with BizNews.

Reported incidents of kidnapping jumped from about eight a day around 2010 to an average of 45 incidents a day in 2022:

  • There was a 50% increase in kidnappings in some regions;
  • Most people are kidnapped on their way to and from work;
  • Ransoms vary from as little as R500 to multi-millions of rands;
  • There has been a considerable increase in the kidnapping of high-net-worth individuals, with hundreds falling victim last year alone; 
  • The highest number of reported kidnappings have been in Gauteng, followed by KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, the Western Cape, and then the Eastern Cape.

Commenting on the reasons behind the steep rise in this type of crime, Bosman said: “…we see the more dysfunctional a government becomes, the more socio-economic challenges you face, unemployment, and the higher the corruption, the more likely you will have a rise in kidnapping.”

Bosman warned that the damaging effect of kidnappings on the economy was being underestimated. “It’s not seen as that. It is not treated as that. (But) the moment you target a high-net-worth client…we can still deal with electricity and buy generators and put solar panels on our roofs, but the moment they touch your children, you don’t feel comfortable anymore. You’re gonna stay?”

He compared the trauma of kidnapping to having had cancer. “You’re always going to think and remember that you’ve been diagnosed with it. You’re always going to think that it may come back. You’re always going to think: ‘What is going on out there? Am I safe? Can I still drive? Will I be kidnapped again?’ Because that frightening experience is something not easily comprehended and understood by society and the impact thereof, not only on the person taken, (but) on the family structure, on those directly involved, the businesses, the companies…The moment you target an individual, it’s got a ripple effect where you may even see that companies close down (and) will leave the country. And I know of some of the companies that’s done that, where certain people have been taken (hostage). And then you have this ripple effect that you have more unemployment because suddenly companies have closed. Socio-economic conditions will not improve if that happens and the cycle just continues, whereby there may be probably more kidnappings and more people being unemployed.”

Asked how people could try and prevent themselves from becoming kidnapping victims, Bosman urged people not to jog alone, not to draw money on a corner at the dark end of the street or at a garage in the middle of the night; or refuel their cars in the dark. He also advised them to be careful how much information they revealed about themselves online and to be alert to the possibility that their children could be playing (online) games with people pretending to be minors while actually just planning to get more and more information on their target. However, one of the most important preventative measures was to avoid predictability in travel patterns and to stay super alert to possibly being followed. He suggested proper lighting and camera surveillance at home and at work as additional safety measures.

For the unfortunate victims of a kidnapping, Bosman had this advice: “Comply, try and be as calm as possible in that crisis situation that you find yourself in, knowing that in the majority – and by far the majority – of instances it will be resolved to your best outcome.”

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