School children under siege from kidnappers

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A South African family prays for the kidnapped

by TINTSWALO BALOYI 
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) ALREADY with a reputation for being the crime capital of the world, the emergence of kidnapping syndicates, particularly those targeting schoolchildren, has sent shockwaves throughout South Africa.

The proliferation of these abductions, in broad daylight, adds to the miseries of a country that has among the highest incidences of child and infant rape in the world.

Hardly a day passes without reports of gunmen abducting pupils.

The dreary turn of events perpetrated by kidnap-for-ransom thugs has also cast the spotlight on inept policing in the Southern African country.

On October 20, seven gunmen in two vehicles kidnapped four brothers aged between six and 15 years while they were driven on their way to school in Polokwane, the capital of the northernmost Limpopo.

The youngest turned seven while held hostage.

Abductors held them for three weeks before releasing them unharmed but they dropped them more than 100km from their home.

However, their family reportedly paid R50 million allegedly demanded by the abductors.

This has opened the floodgates.

Gauteng, the country’s economic hub, is now the epicentre of the crisis.

No less than four incidents occurred at schools since mid-November.

On the 16th, two men in a car abducted two Grade 10 girl learners – aged 15 and 16 – from Hoërskool Straatpresident in the capital Pretoria while the scholars were going to a local clinic after school.

The abductors allegedly forced them into the vehicle and coerced them into taking drugs.

The men drove with them to their (men’s) homes and demanded that they steal laptops and cellphones for them in the area.

The men drove the girls to a mall, where they managed to escape.

They however reached home the following day having failed to locate home because of their drugged state. They reported slept in the cold.

On the morning of the 17th, three males in a car kidnapped at gunpoint, an 11-year-old Grade 5 girl learner at EP Baumann Primary School in Mayfair, Johannesburg.

So daring were the kidnappers that they snatched the girl outside the school gate while she was waiting in a line to be sanitised and screened.

This is in line with COVID-19 protocol at South African schools.

The pupil’s whereabouts had not been ascertained at the time of going to press.

Following the spate of kidnappings, the education department and school governing bodies agreed that all screening and scanning procedures must be done inside the school premises with immediate effect.

“We condemn the actions of the criminal elements who prey on young learners and our prayers are with the family and friends of the young learner,” said Panyaza Lesufi, the Gauteng Member of the Executive Committee for Education.

His department had deployed its Psycho-Social Unit to provide assistance to learners and staff at the school through the trauma of witnessing the kidnapping.

Also still missing is another Grade 8 girl learner from Hoërskool Straatpresident. She went missing on November 3.

According to her distraught mother, the daughter allegedly left home visiting a friend and never returned home since.

Last Friday (19th), an 18-year-old Grade 12 girl learner from Sandringham High School in Johannesburg north survived a kidnapping attempt while walking to school.

Four men in a sedan car reportedly drove towards her and one of them, armed, grabbed her into the vehicle.

However, she fought them and screamed, which alerted bystanders and scared the suspects into fleeing the scene.

“We are devastated to learn of another learner kidnapping ordeal in the province this week, but we are glad that this particular attempt failed,” Lesufi said.

This merely is a tip of the iceberg, as indicated by the crime statistics for the 2021/22 quarter two period, released by Police Minister Bheki Cele last Friday.

A total of 2 000 kidnapping cases were recorded during this period.

According to the minister, a majority of kidnappings reported were high-jacking related, followed by kidnappings which were robbery and rape related.

Out of a sample of 620 cases, 52 kidnapping cases were ransom-related and most occurred in the Gauteng province.

Seven kidnappings were as a result of human trafficking.

“Certainly, more can and will be done to ensure that South Africans are and feel safe,” Cele said.

Citizens are enraged.

“They can release hundred statements fact is the state is incapable of protecting South Africans,” said Mavundla Thabethe.

Some parents fear sending their children to school.

“Thugs are snatching our children in broad daylight. Schools have become no-go areas for kids. I can’t wait for the school year to end so my children are safe home,” a parent in Johannesburg said.

She was among parents that rushed to a Mayfair school to ensure the safety of their children when news of a girl kidnapped broke.

Experts believe kidnapping syndicates are conniving with crooked bank staff who reveal information of those with hefty bank balances.

Hence it is reported members of richer families are abducted with the hope the families can afford ransoms.

Corrupt police officers have not been spared the involvement in the flurry of crimes.

One senior officer was recently arrested for allegedly asking for money from the family of a victim. The official charges of corruption.

“The SA Police Service kidnapping task team needs to be cleaned-up urgently,” stated Make SA Safe, the anti-crime movement.

Yusuf Abramjee, an advocate and consultant on social cohesion, also questioned the efficiency of the government to deal with the spike in kidnappings.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa must intervene now and get the SA Police Service to act,” he stated.

“Criminals are getting away with it. Police inefficiencies are contributing to the problem. These gangs are running amok. International law enforcement must also be brought in,” Abramjee added.

Police announced the arrest of five suspected kidnappers in Daveyton on the East Rand. They were arrested at a house where a Pakistani businessman was being held captive.

Police are investigating the gang’s possible involvement in other kidnappings.

Besides, kidnappings, a total of 6 163 people were killed between July and September 2021.

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) noted Ramaphosa had committed to halving violent crime in his first term of office (2019-24).

“If the violent crime stats continue to rise at this rate, he is more likely to double violent crime than halve it,” said Andrew Whitfield, DA Shadow Minister of Police.

Ramaphosa this week denounced as “shameful” the statistics released by his police minister

“If a nation’s character can be judged by how it treats women and children, then we are falling desperately short,” he conceded.

– CAJ News