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Surge in kidnappings in South Africa causes concern

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South Africa has seen an increase in kidnapping cases in the 2023–2024 fiscal year, and although a broader range of people are being targeted, women and children remain at a higher risk.

According to the country’s third quarter crime statistics, kidnappings for ransom has become a lucrative commodity for organised crime in South Africa. More than 300 suspects linked to these kidnappings have been arrested in the last two years.

The motives behind the kidnappings vary from ransom, human trafficking, and extortion.

Director at the Teddy Bear Clinic, Dr. Shaheda Omar, said societal issues such as poverty and unemployment play a huge role in the sharp rise in the number of kidnappings in the country.

“Political and societal issues are important to note when you are looking at the current situation,” she said. The unemployment rate is so high, and most people are just looking to survive. Sometimes even families are involved in these kidnapping cases, especially when children are involved.”

Omar emphasized that this is a national issue requiring authorities to be more adept at managing these cases.

“Police officers are not sufficiently equipped to handle kidnapping cases. Most times, people go to the police station to report a case and are told to wait for 24 hours, but that is not true. The 24-hour waiting period is no longer in place, and once someone goes missing, it is important for families to report the incident immediately.”

“There is also an issue of personnel within the police departments; sometimes there aren’t enough police officers to handle these cases,” she added.

Omar said there is an urgent need for early education on safety protocols, especially for young children, so that they can avoid being in unsafe situations.

“We need to exercise caution when it comes to children; we don’t want to instill fear and anxiety in children. We already have an anxious society that is suffering from many mental disorders, but we also have to make sure we are educating them enough so that they aren’t vulnerable people who could hurt them.”

“So in terms of references, identification of the body parts of the body parts is important, and moving away from complex terms so using the names that are used in everyday language so that the child understands. Once the child starts to form a vocabulary, from two-year-old up then it is important that when playing with them to explain to them the function of each body part and also speaking to them about safe and unsafe touches so what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.”

The recent crime statistics follow in the wake of Joshlin Smith’s disappearance, which has shocked the nation.

The six-year-old was last seen on February 19 in Saldanha Bay, approximately 120 kilometers north of Cape Town. Her mother and other suspects have been arrested and charged with kidnapping and trafficking.

This has sparked rumors that Joshlin may have been sold to traditional healer for just over 1,000 U.S. dollars, local media reported.

Surge in muthi-linked killings adds to kidnapping cases

In 2007, a gang of alleged serial killers and a sangoma were arrested after a spate of killings that left nine women dead in the KwaMakhutha, Adams Mission, Umbumbulu and Folweni areas in KwaZulu-Nata

According to South African Government News Agency, police said at the time that each of the women had been found with body parts such as ears, tongues, breasts and genitalia missing. Some of them had been raped before being killed.

Traditional and cultural experts said that these practices contribute to the trafficking of human body parts, calling for regulation in the traditional medicine space to prevent further tragedies.

Kidnapping cases that have made headlines in South Africa:

In 1997, the abduction of Zephany Nurse from a Cape Town hospital as a newborn shocked the nation. Raised under a false identity by her kidnapper, Zephany remained unaware of her true origins until her discovery in 2015, prompting widespread scrutiny of hospital security and healthcare system vulnerabilities.

Another case involved Leigh Matthews, who was abducted from a parking lot at Bond University in 2004. Despite a ransom payment made by her father, Leigh’s body was discovered later, highlighting the tragic consequences of kidnapping incidents.

Lastly, the abduction of the Moti brothers in Polokwane while they were on their way to school in 2021 garnered significant attention. Fortunately, the boys were found unharmed.

According to statistics from the South African Police Service, at least 4,577 kidnapping cases were reported between October 2023 and December 2023.

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