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Kidnapping in Cape Town ‘an isolated incident’

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The kidnapping of a Jewish mother in Cape Town has shaken the community to its core. The woman, who cannot be named at this point, is the daughter of the owner of a furniture chain.

She was kidnapped on Friday, 22 July, and held for ransom until she was released in the early hours of Wednesday, 27 July. The woman is married and is the mother of young children.

Many members of the community and their families overseas are questioning if this is a “new normal”. But CAP Security Chief Executive Mark van Jaarsveld says there’s no indication that the Jewish community is being targeted.

“It’s an isolated incident. Currently it’s not likely to happen again in the community, and it’s not something we have seen historically,” he says. “Furthermore, the kidnapping of women is very rare. The large majority of victims are men. Targets are usually foreigners lured to South Africa.”

At the same time, the Community Security Organisation (CSO) in Cape Town put out a message to the community. “As the organisation responsible for the safety and security of our community [in Cape Town], we have been planning for these kinds of scenarios for some time,” CSO Chairperson Shane Butlion and Director Loren Raize wrote in their message after the woman was released and back with her family.

“Kidnappings as a modus operandi in South Africa aren’t a new threat. Sadly, it’s a growing reality. Though we completely understand the fear, we want to reiterate that this wasn’t a specific Jewish targeted crime, nor did it happen at any Jewish facility,” they said. “CSO Cape Town remains committed to ensuring the highest possible level of protection for our community and that will never change.”

Says Raize, “Targets are linked to motive. In a kidnapping for ransom, it can be assumed that anyone perceived to have wealth and/or the means to pay can become a target. Every community will therefore have some targets that are more attractive, and this has nothing to do with religion. Jewish communities around the world are perceived to have money, and where this perception exists, so too exists the opportunity for someone to be selected as a target.

“There will be a period of reconnaissance where the perpetrators will need to understand the target’s routine in order to intercept them successfully and take the victim as quickly and efficiently as possible. The groups behind these types of kidnappings are organised and leave little to chance. Human beings are habitual creatures, and it’s this routine that any criminal will capitalise on.

“The first thing the family should do is get the authorities involved, even if they are instructed not to do so,” Raize says. “There are highly trained teams and experts with years of experience that will be able to guide the family through the harrowing process and the steps that need to be followed. Communication will take place via a series of phone calls. Some cases have lasted days and some weeks, even months.”

On social media, Cape Town CSO advised that if you are kidnapped, “keep calm and co-operate. Unless this results in an imminent threat to your life, do exactly as you are told. The best opportunity for escape is at the start of the attack. Try to draw attention to your situation. Don’t become aggressive. Try to build a relationship with the kidnappers without becoming too familiar. Your senses may be deprived, such as a blindfold/gag. This may be exceptionally frightening. Try to stay composed and keep track of time and movement.”

In their email to the community, she and Butlion advised, “Always be vigilant and aware of your environment and the people around you. Should you notice any suspicious people, vehicles, or activity, report your concerns to the authorities, the CSO, and your private security company. Ensure that your home security systems are working effectively and are checked regularly. Limit the personal information you share on all social-media platforms. Break your daily routine. If you feel unsafe, drive to a safe place, a police station, or flag down a security vehicle.” They have also encouraged the community to empower themselves by taking CSO training courses.

Generally, perpetrators will learn as much as possible about their target leading up to the kidnapping, they say, and advise people not to ignore anything that seems out of the ordinary. They also recommend downloading tracking apps, and giving a trusted person information that could be useful in finding you. They advise against flaunting wealth and posting information on social media about current or future locations.

Van Jaarsveld says highly organised professional groups will spend money, time, and resources in scouting a target, even paying informants. On the other side of the scale, there are amateur groups who may take someone randomly and not have a plan of action, meaning they won’t hold someone for a long time. He says most kidnappings are short – a car may be hijacked or a person taken to draw money from their accounts.

He doesn’t think it’s necessary to employ bodyguards, and says that the kidnapping of children is unlikely because it evokes more emotion and a more aggressive response from law enforcement. He reiterates that families should contact the police or community security organisations even if the kidnappers tell them not to.

“Hostage negotiation requires experience to evaluate the situation and guide the family. They work in the best interest of victims,” Van Jaarsveld says, pointing out that a victim could be held anywhere from a shack to a basement.

He notes that it’s recommended that the family keep quiet about their situation as it limits the information that could be used by perpetrators. He says welfare arms of the community would be brought in to assist the family with trauma counselling and any other needs.

The new national anti-kidnapping task team has been successful, Van Jaarsveld says, and he’s confident in its abilities. The task force was established in November 2021 following a spike in kidnapping cases in which a ransom was demanded.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Dion Futerman

    Aug 5, 2022 at 12:40 am

    Baruch Hashem safe. However “it’s not likely to happen again in the community”… perhaps a little too optimistic? “kidnapping of children is unlikely” … really, is the person making that statement not a little out of touch with the reality of what has and is happening in South Africa?

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