A TimesLIVE investigation reveals how alleged international crime bosses have been given free rein by corrupt police and home affairs officials, enabling them to terrorise local and international business owners with impunity

Chapter 1:

Journalist’s killer ‘runs kidnapping empire from Maputo maximum security prison’

Evidence suggests Momade Assife ‘Nini’ Satar is behind some of South Africa's major ransom kidnappings, with his trusted lieutenants carrying out the crimes


Image: Nolo Moima/Ruby-Gay Martin

Mbombela businesswoman Gita Samgi’s family hoped ransom payments to her kidnappers would stop the videos they were receiving of her being burnt with a hot iron, screaming for help. 

They wanted to believe her kidnappers would give the 57-year-old the medication she desperately needed. 

Little did they know the highly successful forex business owner, who in 2017 fled from kidnappers in Mozambique to South Africa with her family, was dead.

The family's last ransom payments, in February 2020, were in vain. In total, they paid R130m to her kidnappers.

The wealthy family fled to South Africa after Gita’s sister, Poornima Singh, was kidnapped in Maputo. She was released after ransom was paid.

Kidnapped outside her Mbombela home in October 2019, Gita’s body, wrapped in sheets, was found under an N4 highway bridge near eMalahleni on February 28 2020. She had been dead for days.

A family member who believes he was kidnapped by the same syndicate said he was waterboarded and nearly drowned after his brother sent the kidnappers’ negotiator a message that nearly sealed his fate.

“My brother made the mistake of sending an SMS saying: ‘We know who you are, we know you’re working with Nini Satar.’ They didn’t like that my brother wrote that name.

“They filled the bath with water. They wrapped my body in chains. They put a plastic bag over my head and they threw me into the bath for minutes until I lost consciousness. After that I started co-operating more,” he said.

The relative, who was also released after a ransom payment, agreed to speak to TimesLIVE Investigations on condition of anonymity, saying he feared for his life.

Momade Assife “Nini” Satar is serving a 24-year prison sentence for the 2000 murder of Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso, who exposed his involvement in a Commercial Bank of Mozambique scandal. He was sentenced alongside accomplices Vicente Ramaya, brother Ayob Abdul Satar and Anibal dos Santos Júnior.

Gitta Samgi was one of the first Mozambicans to be kidnapped in South Africa when the Mozambican syndicate started targeting businesspeople here.
Gitta Samgi was one of the first Mozambicans to be kidnapped in South Africa when the Mozambican syndicate started targeting businesspeople here.
Image: Sourced

TimesLIVE Investigations can reveal from interviews with Mozambican and SAPS sources, friends and family of the victims, classified state security documents – seen by TimesLIVE – and international police dockets that some of South Africa’s major ransom kidnappings are believed to have been orchestrated by Satar’s group and carried out by his most trusted lieutenants. 

Satar’s lawyer, Mutola Escova, denies the claims, describing them as “social media gossip”.

He said Satar had never recruited anyone for acts of crime and would never kidnap people in exchange for money.

“My client is not just any person. He doesn't have to [kidnap for ransom]. Satar is a successful entrepreneur. He owns 40 apartments in Paris. He is a great businessman and this has always caused a lot of envy in society.

“Satar, in 1996, was accused of having committed a bank fraud of $144m (now about R2.6bn). He ended up confessing to this crime, but that money was never recovered by the bank,” said Escova.

According to Mozambican intelligence documents, it’s from his cell in Maputo’s infamous B.O. maximum security prison that Mozambican and South African police believe Satar has, since 2012, been building his kidnapping empire, one that has forced many of that country’s business elite to flee to South Africa.

The exodus saw Satar, who allegedly recruited foot soldiers from among his fellow inmates, turn his alleged syndicate’s sights to South Africa and its uber-wealthy local and international business community.

Among Satar’s alleged “most trusted lieutenants" are Esmail Nangy, Edson Vombe and Mahomed Bakhir Ayoob. Nangy is believed to have gone as far as undergoing facial reconstruction surgery to avoid being caught, but was nonetheless apprehended earlier this year.

All are fugitives from Mozambican authorities who have lived in and operated from South Africa and elsewhere in the world.

South African and Mozambican police sources say the three, who fled to this country between 2013 and 2017, allegedly helped spawn South Africa’s ransom kidnappings boom.

SAPS crime intelligence sources say they are dubbed “The Mozambicans"”.

In an exclusive interview with TimesLIVE Investigations, senior officials from the Mozambican Attorney General’s Central Office for the Fight Against Organised and Transnational Crime said Vombe, Nangy and Ayoob were controlled from prison by Satar, who used them to run his operations.

Edson Vombe, Esmael Nangy and Bakhir Ayoob are the alleged lieutenants for a Mozambican kidnapping for ransom syndicate which has plagued Mozambique and South Africa for nearly a decade.
Edson Vombe, Esmael Nangy and Bakhir Ayoob are the alleged lieutenants for a Mozambican kidnapping for ransom syndicate which has plagued Mozambique and South Africa for nearly a decade.
Image: Nolo Moima

The office was created in 2022 to investigate and prosecute international organised crime syndicates operating in and from Mozambique, including those involved in kidnappings.

Escova, however, dismissed their claims. 

“He [Satar] has never had a relationship with these gentlemen. If Satar is accused in this kidnapping, our question is: accused by whom? By court? By the police? By the magistrates? Accusations of WhatsApp gossip are not accusations, they are gossip.”

The officials have reason to be afraid. In 2016 Mozambican prosecutor Marcelino Vilanculos was gunned down in Maputo. He was investigating the kidnapping syndicates and, according to the Mozambican press, zooming in on Satar’s empire, with his nephew Danish in his sights.

In 2014 Satar escaped from Mozambique while on parole, after serving a fraction of his sentence. After being found in Thailand in 2018 and returned to Mozambique, authorities announced he was also being investigated regarding kidnapping for ransom cases, according to various news articles published in Mozambique at the time.

One of the men prosecutors linked to Satar’s kidnapping empire, José Ali Coutinho, who was murdered in 2018, was also reportedly linked to Vilanculos’s assassination.

A senior member of the Central Office for the Fight Against Organised and Transnational Crime, who was instrumental in the investigation which tracked Satar in South Africa and found him in Thailand, said Nangy was wanted in Mozambique on kidnapping, racketeering and money laundering charges.

Nangy was arrested in a joint SAPS Interpol operation at his luxury Centurion home in January. He has been denied bail by the Tembisa magistrate's court pending the outcome of his extradition hearing.

The charges relate to the kidnapping of millionaire and hotelier Ahmed Anwar on June 30 2022 in Maputo. A $3m (R57m) ransom was paid for Anwar who was then released.

Documents presented by Interpol officers during Nangy’s bail proceedings in February state he is also a person of interest in Samgi’s murder.

Arguing against Nangy's bail application, Interpol said he had "a disposition of violence" and the gravity of the offences he faces in Mozambique is "extremely serious". 

"Kidnappings for ransoms have become the norm in both Mozambique and South Africa."

Nini Satar pictured in a swimming pool.
Nini Satar pictured in a swimming pool.
Image: Nini Satar/Meta

The senior member said: “We are currently investigating strong links between Satar and Nangy and Vombe, who have seemingly taken over the day-to-day running of Satar’s operations in South Africa and Mozambique.

He alleged that since Satar’s reimprisonment in 2018, kidnappings had exploded in South Africa, with information indicating Nangy was primarily behind the spread.

TimesLIVE Investigations was granted access to the Mozambican police's Nangy investigation docket.

It shows how he allegedly used his brother Amade, cousin Danish Nangy and at least one of his four wives, Asserina Sadique Nangy, to assist him in his suspected crimes.

The Ahmed Anwar kidnapping docket reveals Asserina, Amade and Danish are allegedly hiding in South Africa.

“The two vehicles used in Anwar’s kidnapping were found at the Maputo house used to hold Anwar, which was rented in the name of Amade and whose rent was paid for by Asserina.

“Amade was last seen at Tembisa magistrate’s court for his brother’s first appearance. He stopped coming to court after we obtained an Interpol arrest warrant for him for orchestrating kidnappings. We believe he is in South Africa," said the senior member.

He said while Danish was reportedly kidnapped days after the arrest of his brother’s accomplices, they believe his kidnapping was staged and that he is also hiding in South Africa.

Attempts to contact Amade, Danish and Asserina failed.

The docket reveals Nangy’s other alleged accomplices, Celso Abilio Cossa and brothers Samuel Fortonato and Edgar Jose Fortonato Rungo, were arrested shortly after Anwar was released.

The Rungos and Cossa are in custody in Maputo awaiting trial.

Edgar Rungo works for Nangy’s international construction trucking company Trans-Nangy.

A Mozambican State Information and Security Services (SISE) intelligence report titled “Abductions of Mozambicans abroad” backs the senior member’s claims.

The document states Ayoob has been involved in kidnappings in South Africa. 

Ayoob is the son-in-law of Mohamed Bashir Suleiman, an alleged transnational drug kingpin sanctioned by the US treasury department.

Ayoob was arrested in Mozambique in 2012 on charges reportedly relating to 20 kidnappings. He was released after nine days, without appearing in court.

He disappeared after another arrest warrant was issued for him in Mozambique in 2013. He was arrested in South Africa that year on identity fraud charges and again in 2017 at his home in Johannesburg’s exclusive Steyn City for drug trafficking.

The SISE document alleges Ayoob “ordered” the kidnappings of “Mozambicans of Indian origin outside (Mozambique), in particular in RSA ... (Ayoob is) accused of part of the kidnappings carried out ... in connection with Nini Satar ... [and] uses Mozambican bandits to carry out the kidnappings from Maputo to RSA”.

The report alleges Satar and his family started Mozambique’s first major kidnapping-for-ransom syndicate while he was in prison.

It states the Satar family’s criminal activities began with the Bank of Mozambique, which they “defrauded in amounts close to USD144,000,000”.

“It was a fraudulent operation ... involving a lot of people and the brothers Ayob Abdul Satar and Momade Assife Satar, better known as Nini.”

The document states an international arrest warrant has been issued for Satar’s older brother Asslam Abdul Satar, who reportedly lives in Benoni.

“Vicente Ramaya, Ayob Abdul Satar and Momade Assife Satar, while serving their sentences at B.O., managed to attract some management staff at the institution and introduced means of communication (mobile phones and computers) in the cells,” reads the document.

It adds that by the middle of 2012 Mozambican authorities had registered 30 kidnapping cases, which allegedly earned the syndicate $50m, with the suspects “orchestrating the crimes from prison”.

Nangy, according to SAPS spokesperson Brig Athlenda Mathe, is a person of interest in the kidnapping and death of Samgi and the kidnapping of Bedfordview businessman Hanif Ahmad, who was kidnapped in July 2019.

SAPS and Interpol officer Sgt Kabelo Seanego, testifying in February during Nangy’s bail application, said Nangy was also a person of interest in Jahyr Abdul’s October 2021 kidnapping.

Abdul is the son of Salimo Abdul, chairperson of Vodacom Mozambique.

A confidential SAPS note shows Nangy is also under investigation for six other multi-million-dollar kidnappings in South Africa. The note was used by detectives to brief senior SAPS management on the operation to arrest Nangy.

It reveals he operated an “international cross-border kidnapping syndicate targeting South Africans and Mozambicans in South Africa", with his involvement dating back to July 2019.

It states he was wanted in relation to the kidnappings of four South Africans between 2019 and 2022.

These include:

·     Eleven-year-old Maha Qassim;

·     Benoni businessman Ismail Akoonjee;

·     Cape Town businessman Ismail Rajah; and

·     Cape Town businessman Noor Kariem

Kariem has never been found. The others were released after ransoms were paid.

The note adds that data analysis of communication between hostage takers and victims’ families emanated from Mozambique.

“While communication was from transnational addresses, the victims were all held and released in South Africa. Ransoms were paid mostly in Dubai via the hawala system to money changers and to certain Mozambique bank accounts.”

It states that from intelligence from Interpol and Mozambican police, Nangy was “identified and confirmed ... as the [operations] kingpin”.

Kidnapping for ransom accused Esmael Malude Ramos Nangy in the Tembisa magistrate's court on July 19.
Kidnapping for ransom accused Esmael Malude Ramos Nangy in the Tembisa magistrate's court on July 19.
Image: Ziphozonke Lushaba

It reveals that in 2022 SAPS officers received intelligence on Nangy’s involvement in Cape Town kidnappings, “with Mozambican police arresting kidnapping suspects in that country who allegedly linked Nangy as a kingpin involved in kidnappings in Mozambique.

“Further shared information was that Mozambican suspects travelled to South Africa to drop off a vehicle used in Mozambique for [a] kidnapping in Gauteng. The vehicle ... is registered in South Africa to a Mozambique national with links to Nangy.”

The note adds that to stay ahead of authorities, Nangy underwent facial reconstruction in the Dominican Republic in 2019.

The note delves into how SAPS and Mozambican organised crime detectives and crime intelligence agents hatched their plan to take down Nangy and his criminal empire by first arresting corrupt police, home affairs and private banking officials who were instrumental in his alleged criminal operations.

In response to questions on the Mozambique-driven kidnapping free fall, Mathe said: “Transnational organised crime is spreading extremely fast between the two countries. Kidnappings are becoming more complex and volatile.

“To curb kidnappings, the SAPS and the Mozambique Criminal Investigation Division have boosted relationships to enhance co-operation and exchange information.”

Mathe said “13 syndicate members have been identified as persons of interest".

“This sharing of information has led to the development of organised crime programmes to address kidnappings, including the planning and conducting of joint operations and the deployment of sophisticated technology to trace fugitives.

“The approach has led to the successful apprehension of suspects wanted for kidnappings in both countries, including the arrest on December 30 2021 of Alfred Jeffrey Hobyane in Mozambique for his alleged involvement in kidnappings in South Africa and the capture of Nangy in Pretoria for alleged kidnappings in Mozambique.” 

* This article was produced in conjunction with the Henry Nxumalo Foundation which offered TimesLIVE a grant to investigate the rise in kidnapping cases in South Africa 

A Pakistani kidnapping for ransom syndicate operating in South Africa is allegedly headed by the enigmatic Baba Tahir.
A Pakistani kidnapping for ransom syndicate operating in South Africa is allegedly headed by the enigmatic Baba Tahir.
Image: Nolo Moima/TimesLIVE

Chapter 2:

Home affairs web of corruption gives Pakistani ‘kidnapping cartel leader’ free rein in SA

Despite being declared a prohibited person in 2014, Tariq 'Baba' Tahir remains in the country


A web of corruption in the department of home affairs (DHA) has allowed a suspected cartel leader to roam freely in South Africa despite him being declared a prohibited person nine years ago.

Now the Hawks are investigating how Tariq “Baba” Tahir has managed to stay in the country, living the high life and often surrounded by armed bodyguards.

He has also got off on at least five kidnapping for ransom charges.

The police became aware of Tahir, who arrived in South Africa in January 2001, in 2007, when commanders of secretive Pakistani crime cartel Lajpal dined on poisoned food in Clocolan in the Free State. The bodies of Muhammad Yasir Awan, 42, Shahabudin Hussen, 40, Majad Saleem, 30, and Aman Ullah, 35, were discovered a year later, buried in the garden of a house.

At the time, Tahir, who according to a crime intelligence source was supposed to be at the 2007 Clocolan gathering but never showed up, was allegedly a mid-level member of Lajpal. He was never charged in connection with the killings, but four other Lajpal members were convicted of the murders in 2013.

The deaths, say police sources, cleared the way for new blood to transform the group into what it is today — a global human trafficking and ransom kidnapping cartel that instils fear into South Africa’s émigré Pakistani community.

A police crime intelligence source said since i2007 Tahir has allegedly worked his way up to become Lajpal’s leader.

A 2022 report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime says: “Pakistani gangs are particularly prominent in South Africa,” with violent turf wars between Lajpal and rival gang Basra resulting in “spates of assassinations and kidnappings”.

Tahir, who was barred from South Africa because of passport fraud, should have been deported in 2014.

But years of social media posts show him flaunting his lavish lifestyle, surrounded by armed gunmen. Tahir has a farm in Mpumalanga and houses across Johannesburg.

The DHA admitted that he remains in South Africa because home affairs officials wiped his profile clean.

While Tahir’s DHA profile shows that on May 25 2022 his final visa appeal application was rejected because of “criminal convictions and a negative police clearance certificate”, his profile now carries no such references.

Tariq Baba Tahir's department of home affairs records before they were cleaned by corrupt department officials.
Tariq Baba Tahir's department of home affairs records before they were cleaned by corrupt department officials.
Image: Supplied
Tariq Baba Tahir's department of home affairs records
Tariq Baba Tahir's department of home affairs records
Image: Supplied

Information on SAPS databases and a 2014 letter from his lawyer, Riaan Louw, to the DHA objecting to his prohibition show that between 2003 and 2015 Tahir was arrested for human trafficking, kidnappings, intimidation, possession of stolen property, robbery and murder. Between 2013 and 2014 he was held as an awaiting trial prisoner for eight months in connection with kidnapping and robbery. All the charges were withdrawn.

Despite numerous DHA rejections of his visa appeals and prohibition, Tahir secured his latest spousal visa on May 31 2022. He can remain here until May 30 2024. 

Applicants for such visas are only eligible to receive one if they have not been prohibited.

Tahir’s latest visa acquisition is now the subject of a Hawks Serious Anti-Corruption Unit investigation, with detectives looking into how Lajpal infiltrated the DHA. Hawks spokesperson Brig Thandi Mbambo confirmed the investigation, declining to comment further.

In 2013 Tahir changed his surname to Bhatti and in the years since, DHA border control movement data show he has used the aliases Tariq Mahmood Guhlam, Tariq Mahmood Bhatti, Tariq Mehmood Bhatti and Tariq Tahir.

Tahir's department of home affairs records now show he has permission to live in South Africa with his wife.
Tahir's department of home affairs records now show he has permission to live in South Africa with his wife.
Image: Supplied

The information shows that on one trip from South Africa he departed under the surname Bhatti, but returned on the same passport using the surname Tahir.

It is not known why the department’s control system did not flag him or why he was not detained and deported.

Tariq Baba Tahir's border control movements. The last four entries show that he traveled on the same passport using the surnames Tahir, Bhatti and Ghulam.
Tariq Baba Tahir's border control movements. The last four entries show that he traveled on the same passport using the surnames Tahir, Bhatti and Ghulam.
Image: supplied

He allegedly heads Lajpal under the surname Bhatti. According to a crime intelligence document – seen by TimesLIVE – the organisation specialises in ransom kidnappings, human trafficking and gun and drug smuggling from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh into South Africa via Mozambique.

The document warns Tahir “manipulates government control systems and moves across international boundaries without any legal documentation”.

“Tahir cannot be positively identified ... There are different identity numbers ... not one can be verified ...”

Every criminal charge laid against him has fallen away, with victims withdrawing charges, witnesses declining to testify or prosecutors deciding not to prosecute.

TimesLIVE Investigations established that Tahir has been charged with five separate kidnappings:

  • In May 2010 he was charged with a kidnapping and murder in Lenasia, but the docket was transferred from Gauteng to Barberton, Mpumalanga, where the charge was changed to possession of stolen property. Mpumalanga Hawks spokesperson Cpt Dineo Sekgotodi said this charge against him was withdrawn. She could not say why.
  • In November 2013 in Kokstad, KwaZulu-Natal, a 28-year-old man was kidnapped and Tahir and four others were arrested and charged. KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Lt-Col Robert Netshiunda said they were all found not guilty.
  • During that same month, he was charged with kidnapping a Pakistani businessman in Sunnyside, Pretoria. Neither police nor the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could say what happened to the case. NPA spokesperson Lumka Mahajane said the SAPS was unable to locate the docket.
  • In 2014 Tahir was arrested for a kidnapping in Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal. Netshiunda said the case was withdrawn on November 25 2014 because the senior public prosecutor declined to prosecute. “The victim was found alive and reunited with his family.”
  • In Matatiele, Eastern Cape, Tahir and two others were charged with kidnapping in June 2015. Again, charges were withdrawn.

Phone conversation with Tariq Baba Tahir and his wife, Zainub Bibi Dawood.

TimesLIVE investigations in a phone call tracked down Tariq Baba Tahir, the alleged head of the Pakistani Lajpal organised crime cartel. In the interview, he confirmed that his other name is Tariq Bhatti. Despite the Department of home affairs expunging his marriage nine years ago and declaring him a prohibited person, Tahir stated that he was still married to Dawood and that he lived in Johannesburg. He referred TimesLIVE to his lawyer Riaan Louw, who said that he would be unable to assist in regards to the interview that TimesLIVE investigations wanted to conduct with Tahir over his arrests for kidnapping for ransom and other crimes. Tahir said he would agree to the interview as long as Louw authorised it.

When the DHA prohibited Tahir, it also expunged his 2005 marriage to Johannesburg businesswoman Zainub Bibi Dawood because he obtained his passport fraudulently. But three months later, the couple remarried in a civil ceremony.

TimesLIVE Investigations confirmed with Tahir that he lives in Johannesburg with Dawood and their married surname is Bhatti.

Tahir refused an interview request with TimesLIVE Investigations and referred journalists to his lawyers.
Tahir refused an interview request with TimesLIVE Investigations and referred journalists to his lawyers.
Image: Sourced

Last month Dawood provided the DHA with an affidavit about her relationship with Tahir, whom she says she met in Lenasia “in 2005/2006” when her father, Abdul Rafeek Dawood, was teaching Tahir “how to fix cars”.

The SAPS Crime Administration System shows Tahir, Dawood, her father and two sisters were arrested in Komatipoort for smuggling Pakistani nationals into South Africa in 2008.

Court records show charges against them were withdrawn.

The Hawks are investigating how Tahir obtained his spousal visa in May 2022 despite DHA director-general Livhuwani Makhode and minister Aaron Motsoaledi rejecting his visa renewal applications.

The history thereof and subsequent rejections include:

  • Securing a relative visa at the South African high commission in Eswatini in February 2017, issued on condition it could not be extended;
  • In January 2019 he applied for an extension, which was rejected in March 2019;
  • He reapplied and in May 2019 it was extended;
  • In 2021 he applied for a temporary residence visa, which was rejected in January 2022; 
  • He appealed the rejection and lost in May 2022.

Despite Makhode and Motsoaledi’s rejections, the department’s database shows his latest “spousal visa” was approved on May 31 2022.

DHA spokesperson Siya Qoza described Tahir as “a person of interest whose status is irregular”.

He said TimesLIVE investigation’s questions exposed a “web" that pointed to a “manipulation of our systems by some officials”.

"Your questions in relation to this one person demonstrate the depth of the challenges that led the minister to appoint an advisory panel in 2021 which was chaired by former director general in the Presidency, Dr Cassius Lubisi, to investigate the issuance of various permits since 2014. The questions exposed a web that touches on a number of our systems and manipulation of our systems by some officials ...

“The Counter Corruption Branch is following leads to get to the bottom of this. The department will revoke his status.”

While Qoza said the DHA discovered Tahir entered South Africa in February 2009, TimesLIVE Investigations established from SAPS and NPA documents, and an affidavit Dawood gave to home affairs officials in June, that he first entered the country in 2001 when he applied for asylum.

Qoza said: “At that time [2009], the system for asylum seekers allowed people to be issued with asylum permits before their fingerprints were verified.

“Verification of his fingerprints was finalised in April 2009. It linked his fingerprints to an ID belonging to a South African suspected to be an illegal foreign national.”

A picture taken in Pakistan of alleged kidnapping kingpin Tariq 'Baba' Tahir with his associates.
A picture taken in Pakistan of alleged kidnapping kingpin Tariq 'Baba' Tahir with his associates.
Image: Sourced

He said while Tahir never returned to the DHA to finalise his asylum application, he managed to obtain an asylum permit, married a South African and used the marriage to apply for a relative’s visa.

Qoza said Tahir frequently travelled from South Africa on his Pakistani passport between November 2011 and the time his visa was first revoked in August 2014, “and has been a frequent traveller ever since”.

“An official employed to put Tahir’s information on the system changed unfavourable decisions by inserting his own decision,” said Qoza.

“This official was suspended and arrested for defrauding the department for the benefit of Pakistani nationals ...”

He said the Eswatini South African high commission official who issued Tahir his 2017 relative’s visa was fired.

“The matter was reported to the police.”

He said the Tahir matter demonstrated the department’s permit-issuing challenges.

“The Counter Corruption Branch found two-thirds of corruption cases emanate from the immigration branch, particularly the permitting unit ...

“Forensic investigations have begun. We expect arrests, deportations and cancellation of irregularly and fraudulently obtained visas, permits and passports.”

Neither Dawood nor Tahir responded to questions.

Their lawyer Riaan Louw said: “Despite the clients referring you to me I do not have instructions from the clients in this matter and cannot comment.”

* This article was produced in conjunction with the Henry Nxumalo Foundation which offered TimesLIVE a grant to investigate the rise in kidnapping cases in South Africa 

Immigration lawyers explain

Immigration lawyer Chris Watters said people were usually prohibited if found in possession of a false identity document or passport.

“If declared prohibited you cannot enter the country or obtain a visa of any sort, and the person must be deported.”

He said prohibitions can be lifted, but only through a special application.

“The threshold for having a prohibition lifted is very high. The department is very reluctant to lift prohibitions and unforgiving unless there are very persuasive reasons.”

He said to stop the altering of unfavourable findings on a person’s immigration records, the department had installed firewalls on its internal databases.

“Any alteration would have to involve senior officials who have the authority or ability to bypass these firewalls.”

Immigration expert Tori Schmidt said for someone to leave South Africa on a passport under one surname and return on the same passport under a different name was “highly irregular”.

She said a prohibited person was banned from South Africa.

“This reflects on the movement control system and that person is prevented from obtaining any visa.

”For a prohibition to be lifted one has to demonstrate good cause. This includes not being involved in a fraudulent passport acquisition or showing that you used an agent who misled you and that the agent was involved in the deception.

“Another option to try to lift a prohibition is through a rehabilitation application, which is done once you have been deported and have been living outside South Africa for a minimum of four years. You have to show you are truly remorseful and provide an affidavit and police clearance certificates among other things.”

Schmidt said if one appealed against a prohibition, the appeal went to the minister who signed it off.

“If your prohibition remains in place, you are not allowed any kind of visa. It is highly irregular to receive a temporary or permanent residence visa, as a prohibition is lifelong and can only be lifted through a special application.”

She said one can appeal against one’s marriage being expunged and relatives visa being rejected.

“One can appeal to the DG. If that appeal is rejected you can appeal to the minister, who can delegate adjudication powers.

“The minister would ultimately be aware of the appeals outcome as it is sent to him. The same happens with a Section 8(4) application. The DG can delegate adjudication powers but would ultimately be aware of the outcome of the decision.”

The department of home affairs letter which declares Tariq Baba Tahir prohibited. Based on this letter, which was written in 2014, he should have been deported. He never was.
The department of home affairs letter which declares Tariq Baba Tahir prohibited. Based on this letter, which was written in 2014, he should have been deported. He never was.
Image: supplied

Why DHA declared Tariq ‘Baba’ Tahir a prohibited person 

Two official department of home affairs letters, written in 2014 to Tahir and his lawyer Riaan Louw, give insight into the processes which led to his prohibition declaration and the expungement of his marriage to Zainub Bibi Dawood.

The letters are based on information supplied by the Pakistani high commission to the department, whose officials at the time were inquiring into suspected irregularities around Tahir’s status in South Africa.

The first, written by the department’s Ashwin Ramsunder on September 3, informed Tahir that his marriage was expunged.

“No marriage register or valid document could be traced. The fraudulent marriage was concluded under false names … At the time of solemnisation of the fraudulent marriage, the names were indicated as Bhatti Tariq Mahmood.

“Now the High Commission of Pakistan, Pretoria has confirmed to the Department that he is known as Tariq Mehmood Tahir.”

While Dawood in an appeal of the couple’s marriage expungement obtained a letter from the Pakistani high commission stating her husband had changed his surname to Bhatti “which is his family’s surname”, police, Pakistani government and DHA documents show his family’s surname is in fact Haider and that his father’s full name is Ghulam Haider.

At least one of Tahir’s children has the surname Haider.

The inter-governmental documents show Tahir was recorded as having changed his name to Bhatti in 2013, eight years after the couple married.

The official government correspondence, which was also addressed to the department of international relations & co-operation, shows Tahir uses the names Tariq Mahmood Bhatti, Tariq Mehmood Bhatti and Tariq Mahmood Ghulam.

A Pakistani high commission letter states: “On 24 January, Tahir, during his visit to Pakistan, got a new Pakistan identity card with the surname Bhatti … The high commission is not aware of the procedure adopted by Tariq to change his name.”

The second DHA letter, written by assistant director for permitting Rachelle Reyneke, informs Tahir he has been declared prohibited.

She cites a Pakistani high commission letter which states Tahir’s passport AK935742 was a “forged document” and that he acquired his second passport, KH283863 through “deception”.

Tahir used the AK935742 passport to apply for asylum in 2001 and the KH283863 one for his various spousal visa applications.

Reyneke informs Louw that because Tahir obtained these passports through “fraud and deception”, “your client is declared a prohibited person.

“He does not qualify for a port of entry visa, admission into the Republic, a visa or a permanent residence permit.”

DHA records show Tahir has travelled multiple times from South Africa on his KH283863 passport using the surnames Tahir, Bhatti and Ghulam and that he now uses a new passport.

It is not known why the department’s Border Movement Control system did not flag him nor why he was not detained and deported.

One of his movement control records shows that on one trip from South Africa he departed under the surname Bhatti but returned on the same passport using the surname Tahir.

Border movement control data show Tahir travelled 38 times between 2013 and 2023 to Pakistan, Australia, the UK, Singapore, Dubai and Mozambique using his different names and passports. 

The five Western Cape police officers arrested for aiding kidnapping for ransom syndicates to carry out their crimes in the province.
The five Western Cape police officers arrested for aiding kidnapping for ransom syndicates to carry out their crimes in the province.
Image: Graphic by Nolo Moima

Chapter 3:

How Cape Town cops helped Khayelitsha criminals graduate to  kidnap-for-ransom bosses

Western Cape kidnappers have access to a network of police officers, ranging from the Flying Squad to the Provincial Detectives Organised Crime Unit. Half of the team investigating kidnappings in the province is based with the latter

By: Aron Hyman, Tankiso Makhetha and Graeme Hosken

When kidnappings started making headlines in Mozambique in 2013/2014, Sivuyile Mki and Xolani Jiyose were in their early 20s, making names for themselves in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, allegedly as armed robbers.

By 2022 their network of hitmen, cops and robbers had turned the Western Cape into the country’s kidnapping capital.

Their modus operandi turned kidnapping for ransom from a sophisticated boutique industry to an industrial venture.

Western Cape police nabbed Mki on June 6 after the brazen June 2 kidnapping of a 31-year-old Welgemoed woman.

Western Cape Hawks spokesperson Zinzi Hani named the men arrested with Mki as Yamkela Gedeni, Mandisi Mzikayise Zweni, Athenkosi France Nyathi, Lwandile Mngazana, Lwazi Landzela, Siyabulela Madini and Zolile Sombo.

Their last court appearance was in the Bellville magistrate's court on July 6, when the case was postponed until July 25. 

Since his arrest, Mki has also been charged with the April 20 kidnapping of two Chinese people in Macassar. He abandoned his bail bid in the matter in the Somerset West magistrate’s court on June 13 when he appeared with his co-accused, Bandile Nqwiliso and Yanga Thomas. Nqwiliso and Thomas were both denied bail.

After Jiyose’s arrest on December 29 last year for allegedly kidnapping two Thai restaurateurs from Mowbray and the murder of one of the victims, investigators began closing in on Mki. He, Jiyose and 25-year-old Khanyolwethu Shasha are believed to be the masterminds behind a number of Cape Town kidnappings. Jiyose and his co-accused, including Macassar police officer Aphiwe Mondi, were denied bail on Thursday July 20 in the Wynberg magistrate's court.

Shasha is one of eight people arrested for allegedly kidnapping two Bangladeshis on January 21 this year.  He and three of his co-accused, including police officers Ngangaphila Somagaca and Bongani Kameni were denied bail on Monday July 17.

TimesLIVE Investigations has established that the men had access to a network of police officers ranging from the Flying Squad to the Western Cape Provincial Detectives Organised Crime Unit.

The latter, in Greenpoint, is also where half of the task team investigating kidnappings for ransom in the Western Cape is based.

Police officers moonlighting as taxi owners have allegedly helped shield kidnappers from arrest and prosecution, and taken part in numerous incidents.

Sources told TimesLIVE Investigations that when members of the Western Cape Kidnapping Task Team, consisting of Hawks and police investigators, arrested kidnappers early in 2023, they discovered pictures and names of their team members on the cellphones of perpetrators, presumably fed to the gangs by officers with high-level access.

The team was established in October 2022 and, after 18 arrests by February this year, its successes were being noticed by kidnappers and corrupt colleagues.

Five police officers were among those arrested.

Since its establishment, the team has arrested 31 alleged kidnappers and virtually halted kidnappings in the Western Cape. 

This included the eight men who were arrested for the kidnapping of an 8-year-old girl in Athlone last year. The men, who cannot be named according to a court order, have abandoned their bail bids. 

Of the 31 people arrested, none have been granted bail and only those who turned state witnesses have had charges provisionally withdrawn against them.

Sivuyile Mki and Xolani Jiyose, arrested on multiple counts of robbery over the years with charges that never stick, are now being linked to multiple kidnappings in the Western Cape. They are believed to be the brains behind the Western Cape's kidnapping surge.
Sivuyile Mki and Xolani Jiyose, arrested on multiple counts of robbery over the years with charges that never stick, are now being linked to multiple kidnappings in the Western Cape. They are believed to be the brains behind the Western Cape's kidnapping surge.
Image: Supplied

According to Gen Shadrack Sibiya, SAPS component head for organised crime, the Western Cape had the most kidnapping cases since 2021, with 31 in the financial year between 2022/2023 and 2023/2024. 

However, Western Cape police and prosecutors are now attempting to make examples of kidnapping for ransom groups by prosecuting them under the Prevention of Organised Crimes Act which, if they are convicted, will allow the courts to impose far heftier sentences. 

Aside from the arrests made by the task team since October, two separate groupings, one of which Jiyose is now also being linked to, are being prosecuted in the Khayelitsha Priority Crimes Court for multiple kidnappings. 

One of the groups, which also operated out of Khayelitsha, allegedly kidnapped nine Chinese nationals and a Taiwanese man.

The other group, which is also linked to cash-in-transit heists, is being linked to the kidnapping of a Chinese woman and a Nepalese man.

Most Western Cape kidnappings were characterised by the modus operandi which defined the cases in which Mki and Jiyose are accused. 

They consist of a kidnapping with a quick turnaround time between when the victim is taken and released. These are known as “express kidnappings”. They often take place on a Thursday or a Friday, followed by a ransom call the same or next day.

Demands mostly start at more than R1m, but are often settled between R5,000 and R200,000. 

Research conducted by TimesLIVE Investigations shows Cape Town’s kidnapping-for-ransom masterminds have a net that is becoming less discriminatory in who it takes.

Increasingly, South Africans are being targeted as the criminals realise their rapid turnover and low yields will have to be supplemented by an increase in victims.

Access to corrupt police officers is critical to Khayelitsha’s syndicates. Six officers attached to the Maitland Flying Squad, who were arrested on March 28 by the Anti-Corruption Unit on charges related to the possession of poached abalone, are also believed to be linked to the syndicates. This is according to police sources, who are investigating their alleged involvement.

Internal police information shows that in the Western Cape, a group within the police started operating in November 2020, bringing the number of such groups to about eight.

It started with suspects posing as police officers in unmarked vehicles. 

According to an internal police memo, the suspects “approach the victim saying they are wanted on a certain case and must come to the police station”. 

The person is then kidnapped, after which their family receives a phone call with ransom demands. 

At least four Chinese people who were previously arrested for the illegal possession of abalone were targeted in such incidents. This indicates that police officers with access to the SAPS’s criminal information databases helped syndicates identify and trace their targets.

Sources said a group within the police was rendering services to the syndicates, including providing uniforms and equipment, intimidating witnesses and working to keep syndicate members out of jail or to keep information such as convictions off the police system, making it difficult for investigators to oppose bail.

They were vital for the success of kidnappings and most syndicates had police officers on speed dial.

Cellphone analysis from a kidnapping for ransom in Lingelethu West, in which two wig salesmen were lured to the area’s police station and then abducted on October 22 last year, showed one of the organisers considered roping in a police officer they had relied on. However, it became clear the ransom amount would be too little to share, so she decided against it.

The Lingelethu West case was also interesting in that it linked to the kidnapping of a Pakistani businessman. 

The Lingelethu West victims and the Pakistani businessman were allegedly held in the same shack in a newly established informal settlement close to Monwabisi Beach along the False Bay coastline.

A video taken by the kidnappers during ransom negotiations for the Pakistani showed the badly bruised and bloodied victim sitting in the shack and being forced to beg his family to meet the kidnappers’ demands. 

The shack had the same blue interior, cupboard and carpet as the one in which the wig salesmen were kept.

According to police, the voice of the interrogator in the video has been positively matched with that of Siviwe Yekiso. 

During a court appearance in the Khayelitsha magistrate's court on March 1, after their arrests in connection with the Lingelethu West kidnapping, the court heard that Yekiso and his co-accused, Lungisa Mafuneka, would likely stand no chance in their bail bids.

Yekiso had an outstanding warrant for failing to attend a hijacking trial in which he is accused and Mafuneka had two previous convictions for kidnapping, for which he was paroled in 2019.

The case was attended by one of their supporters, Lwazi Landzela, who approached the investigating officer and asked him whether the police could return a black VW Polo which was used by the duo when they were arrested trying to withdraw R10,000 from an ATM in Khayelitsha after allegedly receiving a ransom payment of R30,000.

After Landzela was arrested with Mki for the kidnapping of the Welgemoed woman, he pleaded with police during his first court appearance to return his Mercedes-Benz, which was also seized during Mki’s arrest. The state now possesses both vehicles and is holding them as accessories to a crime.

Lwazi Landzela with his father's Mercedes Benz and VW Polo which were allegedly used by the kidnapping syndicate he is allegedly a member of. Both cars have been seized by the police.
Lwazi Landzela with his father's Mercedes Benz and VW Polo which were allegedly used by the kidnapping syndicate he is allegedly a member of. Both cars have been seized by the police.
Image: Lwazi Landzela/Meta

According to police, both cars belonged to the estate of Landzela's deceased father.

They said Mki is believed to be linked to the kidnappings in which the Lingelethu West duo was involved.

During Jiyose's last court appearance in Wynberg on July 3, police hinted that Mki would be added to the case. 

Since his arrest, investigators have charged Jiyose with a further two 2021 kidnappings. They are ready for trial in the Khayelitsha Priority Crimes Court later this year.

In those cases, which include the kidnappings of a Nepalese man in Paarl and a Chinese woman in the Cape Town CBD, two police officers were also arrested. 

Bad cops are one tool in the armoury of about four closely linked groups operating out of Khayelitsha, with taxi owners Mki and Jiyose allegedly sitting at the top.

An international kidnapping syndicate operating out of Mozambique and allegedly headed by kidnapping kingpin Nini Satar and his alleged henchmen, including Esmael Nangy, is believed to be responsible for only a few kidnappings in the Western Cape — most recently, according to sources close to the family, that of Ismael Rajah, the owner of Goodhope Construction. 

Police said the ransom demand for Rajah was R15m, but after 111 days in captivity he was rescued in an operation that resulted in the arrest of five suspects, including two Mozambicans. 

The majority of kidnappings for ransom that occurred in the Western Cape, however, were planned and carried out by gangs from Khayelitsha, which count among their ranks experienced cash-in-transit robbers.

Police sources suggest the shift towards kidnappings by these gangs may be related to the lower risk involved in kidnapping hapless victims, most often foreigners with small support networks and distrust towards the police.

In the first eight months of 2022, before the police’s provincial kidnapping task team was established, the syndicates kidnapped 34 victims — 30 men and four women — to demand ransom.

Among them were:

  • 10 Bangladeshis
  • 7 South Africans
  • 5 Chinese
  • 3 Unknown 
  • 1 Indian
  • 1 Italian
  • 1 Ghanaian
  • 1 Zimbabwean
  • 1 Cameroonian
  • 1 Nigerian

Unlike the kidnappings of Muslim businessmen of Indian or Pakistani descent who were targeted predominantly by international groups, the majority of kidnapping victims in Cape Town were ransomed for relatively small amounts ranging between R5,000 and R200,000. 

In only a few incidents were victims ransomed for higher amounts. These included two victims ransomed for R400,000 and R727,000 respectively after they fell victim to a Khayelitsha kidnapping gang in 2021. 

Information obtained by TimesLIVE showed that between January and June 2022 Cape Town’s kidnapping syndicates raked in R1,313,400 from 19 victims.



Before the establishment of the Western Cape's kidnapping task team in October last year, a unit consisting of only a handful of police members tried to stem the tide.

Negotiators managed to keep the prices for ransom payments low while investigators raced against time to pressure syndicates to release victims and accept the low amounts.

However, the investigators have paid the price, with most members of the previous unit suffering from mental health problems due to burnout and ending up being hospitalised or receiving treatment for stress-related illness. 

Troubling for the police is that many kidnappings are only detected after victims’ families have paid the ransoms and their loved ones have been freed. 

Until October last year, kidnappings for ransom were taking place weekly in the Western Cape.

They were so rife that in May last year kidnappers took seven victims. At one point, a Chinese man who was held captive for nearly a month shared a shack with two other victims. 

One, a Chinese woman, was kidnapped in the west coast suburb of Montague Gardens on April 29. 

The other, an Indian man, was kidnapped on May 13. He managed to escape from the shack near Boys Town, a government housing scheme next to the N2 freeway. 

When the victim took police to the shack, the kidnappers had already moved the Chinese victim to a different location. He was only set free on May 20. 

The syndicate which kidnapped the three has also been linked to an October 2021 kidnapping in Elsies Rivier. 

But as the kidnapping task team started making arrests for almost every kidnapping after it was constituted, the crimes started waning, before stopping abruptly in February this year. This after 19 people were arrested, including five police officers and those believed to be decision-makers in Khayelitsha kidnapping networks, including Jiyose.

As the kidnappings stopped, court appearances became frustrated by lawyers complaining about nonpayment by their clients. This left some accused reliant on legal aid. 

During bail applications, most suspects, apart from the police officers, said they were unemployed, self-employed or operated taxis from which they could no longer make any money as they were behind bars.

* This article was produced in conjunction with the Henry Nxumalo Foundation which offered TimesLIVE a grant to investigate the rise in kidnapping cases in South Africa 

Extortion and kidnapping go hand-in-hand in the Eastern Cape
Extortion and kidnapping go hand-in-hand in the Eastern Cape
Image: Nolo Moima

Chapter 4:

Pay protection money or you’ll be kidnapped

Eastern Cape businesses are under siege by extortion rackets


Organised crime gangs are running riot in the Eastern Cape, with provincial police recording an explosion of ransom kidnappings linked to extortion scams.

The situation is so dire that at least three diplomats — one from Pakistan, the others believed to be from Bangladesh and Ghana  — who have responded to their citizens’ calls for intervention and who are infuriated by the police’s seemingly poor response, have written to the department of international relations & co-operation (Dirco) requesting urgent assistance. Some embassies have also dispatched officials to the province to help their people.

TimesLIVE Investigations has learnt that diplomats, who met senior police officials in May, have questioned why advanced technology to intercept calls and trace cellphones used in ransom demands has not been used.

In the past year, nearly 150 people, including South African, Ethiopian, Ghanaian, Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian business owners, have been kidnapped in the Eastern Cape, with six reportedly murdered.

SAPS crime administration system statistics reveal the scourge’s epicentre to be the Buffalo City municipality, as well as Qonce, Butterworth, Alice, Tsomo, Nqamakwe, Cala, Queenstown, Stutterheim, Peddie, eNgcobo, Ugie, Kentani, Elliot, Dordrecht, Idutywa and Zwelitsha.

Driving the surge are extortion racketeers who, working with police, threaten business owners with kidnapping unless they pay protection fees. Sources reveal that these fees are paid monthly.

Ransoms have ranged from R1m to R5m, according to police, who say more than R50m has been paid out since the end of 2021.

TimesLIVE Investigations understands the State Security Agency (SSA) recently deployed teams to investigate the alleged involvement of senior provincial crime intelligence officers with the syndicates.

The situation is so bad that in April 2022 Hawks national head Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya was asked by Eastern Cape Hawks commander Maj-Gen Obed Ngwenya to dispatch specialised organised crime detectives to assist in bringing the situation under control.

TimesLIVE Investigations learnt that crime intelligence agents, who include kidnapping task team members, were dispatched, but returned to Pretoria two weeks later after provincial investigators reportedly refused to co-operate with them.

The fight between provincial and national officers is allegedly over control of dockets that involve millions of rand in ransoms.

Asked to comment, Eastern Cape Hawks spokesperson Cpt Yolisa Mgolodela said: “I am sceptical about commenting as it involves lives. It's very sensitive. We don't have a breakthrough. Understand that we shy away from this because it compromises and incites [kidnappings].”

A police source with knowledge of the national Hawks team’s investigation said those killed were all foreigners.

“They were killed after ransoms were paid. They include a Ghanaian, two Bangladeshis, two Ethiopians and a Pakistani.”

He said those kidnapped were targeted because they refused to pay protection money.

“The extortionists and kidnappers are the same. Last year protection fees hovered around R250,000. This year they rose to R500,000 per business. The syndicates are making a killing.”

He said ransoms paid were well over R1m.

“At the beginning of the year business owners came together and decided not to bow to the extortionists’ pressure. They were warned about what would happen. At one point in April there were three kidnappings a day.

“It was discovered that when some families did report a kidnapping, they would receive calls shortly afterwards from the kidnappers telling them they knew they had been to the police.

“Some [kidnappers] would call and give the families their case numbers. Only victims of crime and the police know the case number. These guys  [kidnappers] are so brazen they don’t even bother to mask their cellphone numbers when calling the victims. 

“They [the kidnappers] use the same phone numbers in different kidnapping ransom calls. They don’t bother using WhatsApp to make the demands, which is difficult for the police to trace, because they know they are protected by the cops.” 

He said the team had uncovered cases in which police were working with the kidnappers.

“Some safe houses are rented by senior police officers and their families. That information has been gathered, but it apparently goes nowhere.”

He said SSA teams were deployed to the province to investigate police involvement in the syndicates.

Hawks spokesperson Brig Thandi Mbambo confirmed the establishment of the team, which reports to the provincial Hawks commander.

She disputed claims officers were not reacting to cases and said 26 people had been arrested, with 14 cases before court.

“Among those arrested is a police constable who worked at Cala police station’s client service centre. He has since died.”

She declined to comment on how many police were being investigated or on the provincial Hawks commander requesting national assistance.

Mbambo said information on whether syndicates were linked to international gangs “cannot be divulged”.

On pushback by Eastern Cape officers towards their national counterparts and the withdrawal of the team’s commander, Mbambo said: “The national head has the prerogative to rotate investigators as and when he deems necessary and where there is a need according to their level of expertise.”

National police spokesperson Brig Athlenda Mathe said: “It is standard procedure to help in monitoring, intervening and assisting provinces in investigating ransom kidnappings. The support ensures the provincial teams are operational.”

Fahad Amjad, Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner to South Africa, said the situation was alarming, with the Eastern Cape “particularly bad”.

He confirmed corresponding with Dirco several times to request an intervention and said he travelled to the Eastern Cape last year and in May.

“The problem areas are around East London. Since January, more than 60 Pakistani business owners have been kidnapped. The kidnappings are definitely worse than last year. They stem from protection scams.”

Asked if authorities are taking the matter seriously, Amjad said: “We met with the Hawks, who say they are taking it seriously. There are challenges, including having and using equipment which can trace cellphones and numbers.

“When we spoke to the police about this they said they don’t have access to this equipment, which is a major hindrance to stopping this crime.”

Lizelle Maurice, Border-Kei Chamber of Business CEO, said the situation was beyond a crisis.

“Everyone who owns a business is a target. Criminals have latched on to the fact that it is easy money. Business owners are paying protection fees of up to R500,000 a month.

“Every year the numbers go up. In the last three months we know of 22 people kidnapped in the Buffalo City municipality. Increasingly, South Africans are targeted.

“Victims are threatened with death if they speak out. What makes the crime worse is the involvement of the police, who are reportedly behind the intimidation and kidnappings.”

A Pakistani businessman who was kidnapped described the situation as terrifying.

“In Dordrecht, seven people have been kidnapped. They were kidnapped in one day from different businesses.

“These syndicates work with police. They send them to put pressure on you to pay protection money. When I refused, they said, right, this week you will be kidnapped. If we can't find you, we will take your wife and children.”

He declined to say how much was paid for his release and asked that the town in which he works not be identified.

“These people kill. They target everyone. They were targeting mainly foreigners, but now it's South Africans as well.”

* This article was produced in conjunction with the Henry Nxumalo Foundation which offered TimesLIVE a grant to investigate the rise in kidnapping cases in South Africa 

Chapter 5:

A change in modus operandi or a case of mistaken identity?

A number of working-class South Africans have been targeted by kidnap for ransom syndicates. The question is why?

By: Aron Hyman and Graeme Hosken

In the first six months of 2022, seven South Africans were kidnapped in Cape Town. Most were middle- and working-class people with no major business interests.

South Africans were second only to Bangladeshis as the most kidnapped in the city during that period. 

A closer look at what was behind the incidents involving South Africans revealed mistaken identity in some cases.

Worryingly, police said kidnapping is increasingly being used to force victims to pay over inheritances or lump-sum pension payouts. 

Criminals operating in townships from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape appear to be gathering information on those in their communities who may have received such payments.

“They can’t just take anyone because there’s no guarantee the victims will be able to get access to large amounts of money in such a short space of time. They appear to know who got lump sum payouts,” said a police source.

On July 2 a 23-year-old woman was kidnapped in Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape shortly after leaving her grandmother’s home to buy building materials.

According to police information, the victim had recently received a lump sum from her deceased father’s estate, through the Government Employees Pension Fund.

Shortly after going missing, a family member received a message from the victim’s phone telling them to withdraw the money to pay for her release or she would be killed.

In some cases, individuals were taken and told to transfer money directly from their bank accounts into accounts controlled by criminals.

In one such case in Philippi East, Cape Town, a 32-year-old man was kidnapped by armed men on March 27 last year.

They drove him to an unknown location where he was instructed to transfer money to a Capitec account.

The men then forced him to increase his daily withdrawal limit.

The next day they took him to his bank to unblock the banking app on his phone.

He was then forced to transfer R130,000 to the FNB account of a man whose identity is known to TimesLIVE Investigations.

No arrests have been made despite police being in possession of the bank account numbers and names of the individuals to whose accounts the transfers were made. The perpetrators also stole the victim’s VW Polo.

Western Cape police spokesperson Col André Traut said the case was still under investigation and confirmed no arrests had been made.

According to police, kidnapping for ransom was now being used for a range of reasons, from debt collection to negotiating an end to rivalries between criminal gangs. 

In some cases, kidnappings appeared to have been carried out as a result of family feuds.

They said there was no indication South Africans specifically were being targeted. The kidnappings appeared to be opportunistic rather than targeted towards a certain nationality, as is the case with syndicates who target Bangladeshi, Chinese and Pakistani shop owners.

“It appears that in the cases of some South Africans, it was a matter of mistaken identity,” said one source.

Troubling is that the syndicates held onto victims despite them not being their intended targets and still demanded ransoms for their release.

One such case was that of Shireen Essop, a Cape Town woman who was kidnapped on May 23 last year in Weltevreden. It is believed that the owner of the business where she worked was the target and they mistook Essop for a family member.

What at first appeared to Essop to be a car hijacking soon turned into a nightmare when the hijackers forced her at gunpoint into the back of the vehicle.

When she was taken, Essop was on the phone with her mother, who listened helplessly as her daughter screamed. 

Shortly thereafter, family members searching for Essop spotted her car at Fezeka Court in Gugulethu. Inside were two men, but Essop was nowhere to be seen.

When the family approached the car the suspects fled, eventually stopping and abandoning the vehicle.

After two days the family paid a ransom for Essop’s release and she was found by a neighbourhood watch at a BP petrol station in Crossroads, Nyanga. 

Investigators arrested 28-year-old Mussa Wilesi for being in possession of Essop’s stolen cellphone. 

The kidnapping of Gqeberha biokineticist Riana Pretorius in March this year raised questions about whether the kidnappers’ modus operandi was changing to include South Africans without ties to big businesses. 

Xolisile Rhawutini and Xolani Kafile were arrested for the kidnapping and allegedly attempting to ransom Pretorius for R2m. They appeared in the Gqeberha magistrate’s court on June 7 and were denied bail.

At the time, Rhawutini was out on R1,000 bail for two separate robberies.

Traut warned that any person could become a kidnapping for ransom victim and categorisations were not useful.

“As is the case with any other crime, one cannot categorise victims or potential victims on the basis of wealth and issue a warning to a certain sector of the public, as any person can be affected,” he said.

* This article was produced in conjunction with the Henry Nxumalo Foundation which offered TimesLIVE a grant to investigate the rise in kidnapping cases in South Africa 

A man is kidnapped in Johannesburg on November 1 2022.