By Annalise Kempen
When the businessman Omar Carrim was reported as missing after he had left his business in Pretoria Central on 3 August 2017, it did not take long for social media to catch onto the event and soon the hashtag #kidnappings was doing the rounds. Regular updates were given by crime activist Yusuf Abramjee and eventually, 137 days later, it was reported that the frail 76-year-old victim had been found and reunited with his family.
This event, and a few others in which businessmen had allegedly been kidnapped for ransom in South Africa, resulted in a media conference being called to raise awareness about kidnapping. Yusuf Abramjee announced at this media conference, held during January 2018, that he had written an open letter to the Minister of Police in which he asked for the SAPS to act decisively on kidnapping. The outcry about kidnappings - especially those of businessmen - made many wonder whether the police kept separate statistics for kidnapping, to determine its real extent. It was soon confirmed that the police did not, which means that there is no scientific proof of whether kidnapping incidents in South Africa are indeed rife.
At the same media conference, Mr Abramjee sketched two scenarios related to kidnapping. According to him, the first involved organised crime syndicates, possibly with international links, targeting Indian businessmen. The second involved copycat groups, including local criminals, targeting victims of different ethnical groups, ie Indian, Bangladeshi, Zimbabwean and Chinese individuals. But the question still remained of whether proof existed that specific individuals were targeted; whether the police handled all these cases with the same level of urgency; and whether the public played their part in reporting such incidents?
Is there a difference between kidnapping and abduction?
Before dealing with kidnapping and whether there should be cause for concern among South Africans, it is important to distinguish between kidnapping and abduction since the media and even some police spokespersons often use the wrong terms (indiscriminately) when describing such incidents. Although both are common law offences, investigating officers need to use the correct term when charging suspects. According to Snyman (2008), kidnapping (Afrikaans: "menseroof") is the act of "unlawfully and intentionally depriving a person of his/her freedom and movement and/or, if such person is a child, his/her custodians of their control over him/her". Snyman (2008) further explains common law abduction as follows: "A person, either male or female, commits abduction if s/he unlawfully and intentionally removes an unmarried minor, who may likewise be either male or female, from the control of his/her parents or guardian and without the consent of such parents or guardian, intending that s/he or somebody else may marry or have sexual intercourse with the minor." The Children's Act 38 of 2005 also provides for statutory abduction in sections 138 and 139 as well as in Chapter 17. (Remember that a minor is a person younger than 18.)
People are kidnapped for different reasons. Some are kidnapped for ransom by a captor who wants to benefit from the crime, ie by receiving money or forcing the authorities to release a political prisoner; some kidnappers want to make a political statement; some kidnapping incidents happen due to a family dispute or during a custody battle; while some victims are kidnapped during the perpetration of another crime, such as a hijacking, an armed robbery or human trafficking. Irrespective of the reason, the reality is that such a kidnapping victim is likely to suffer trauma whilst his/her freedom is restricted and it is the task of police hostage negotiators to bring a peaceful end to such an event as quickly as possible.
What does hostage negotiation entail?
Col Ernst Strydom, the National Hostage Negotiators Coordinator, told Servamus that the first hostage negotiation team was established in 1990 at the Institute for Behavioural Sciences by Brig Pieterse, Col Langenhoven, the late Kobus van Jaarsveld and himself. The initial need was to deal with airplane hijacking incidents, but the realisation soon dawned on them that such negotiations would not be limited to airport incidents and that such a team had to be skilled and ready to deal with all types of hostage events.