Immigrant held for ransom at the Zim/SA border

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“On 8 September 2017, I boarded a coach from Malawi to Johannesburg,” says Vincent [not his real name]. “All the way up to Beitbridge passengers were happy about the care given by the conductor and his crew.”

But everything changed when they tried to cross from Zimbabwe to South Africa two days later. Vincent and about 30 other passengers, including his eight-year-old child, were soon to be held ransom.

As usual at Beitbridge they got out to have their passports checked and stamped on the Zimbabwean side. But then they were told to get into two minibus taxis. The coach was nowhere to be seen.

“They told us that the bus was somewhere and we would soon get back. I really felt we were in danger. The normal process after passports are stamped is getting back in the bus to go through to the South African side,” says Vincent.

Their bus tickets had also been collected while still in Malawi. This was not normal according to Vincent. Usually tickets are collected as the bus approaches Johannesburg. He had paid R900 for the ticket.

It was in the dead of night that they were bundled into the two taxis. “We travelled for about half-an-hour at a very dangerous speed. The two minibuses stopped in the bush, middle of nowhere, and I was completely lost. Were we now in South Africa or still the Zimbabwean side? I could not tell,” he says.

They were then told to get out. Vincent refused. Everyone was in a state of shock, he says. He was then driven with his child to a place he suspects was the driver’s area of residence. He was left in the minibus for about two hours.

The driver returned and drove them back to the other passengers. They were informed that later they would be taken to Hilbrow in Johannesburg, but that first they had to call family members, friends or employers to pay a ransom of R2,500 each or else they would not be released.

Vincent had a R1,000 on him. “I tried to negotiate for an early release but was asked to pay [R1,500] more. I called my boss in Cape Town for the money. These hijackers asked my boss to eWallet [the money], but my boss convinced them he was going to make a payment through Shoprite or Checkers.”

Vincent works as a pool cleaner. According to his employer, several phone calls were made before the hijackers agreed to collect the ransom in Messina. “My intention was to let them [the kidnappers] move away from the bush and maybe they would be scared of police, but it seems they were not worried,” said Vincent’s employer. So in the end the kidnappers got the R2,500.

It is unclear how the kidnappers managed to cross the border without going through passport control on the South African side. Vincent is now in Cape Town and has his passport but without the South African entry stamp. He has therefore not reported what happened to him to the police.

Messina police say they are unaware of such an incident and no one has laid charges or reported it at the station.