Kidnapping is the latest criminal scourge to hit South Africa. Gangsters, believed to be largely Nigerian, have created such a climate of fear among foreign businessmen that the South African police is seriously considering setting up a special unit to deal with the menace. Tom Nevin reports from Johannesburg.
Kidnapping has arrived in South Africa with a vengeance. Already a thriving criminal industry in other parts of the world, notably West Africa and Latin America and a one time a favourite of felons in the United States and Europe, kidnappers have opened shop in South Africa's major cities.
According to the South African Police Service (SAPS) the kidnap gangs are almost exclusively Nigerian. So serious has the scourge become that the SAPS are considering the formation of a special unit to crack down on the burgeoning Nigerian underground, infested with pimps, drug pushers, loan sharks and gambling dens...and now kidnappers. In some instances, the crime is not reported because the victim is linked to an illegal activity.
Said a SAPS spokesman, "In the vast majority of cases, the victim is a foreign businessman who is lured to SA to make a shady deal. If he goes to the police, he could face criminal charges. The syndicates believe his family will quietly pay the ransom without getting the authorities involved."
Managing director Howard Griffiths of Griffiths & Associates security service consultants says, "At this stage, the activity seems to be confined to elements from West Africa, mainly Nigerian, who seem to have cornered the market. The indigenous underground appears to be content at this stage to concentrate on robbery and hijacking and are becoming more involved in prostitution, drug pushing and loan sharking - at one time a preserve of west African migrants but now increasingly being exploited by locals. How long local criminals they will be content to watch kidnapping activity before getting involved themselves is anybody's guess. It's probably just a matter of time."
The spreading kidnap epidemic
"However," says Griffiths, "It would be wrong to assume that kidnapping is confined to West and South Africa. It's cropping up in other parts of Africa as well and is catching on in cities like Nairobi, Cairo and Dar Es Salaam."
Who are the targets of kidnappers? Rich people, certainly, and even those who appear to be wealthy but may not be. It's for that reason that kidnappers generally take their time in selecting a victim. They know...