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Although vehicle hijacking is a worldwide phenomenon, it has increased to such an extent in South Africa that it is currently regarded as one of the countries with the highest hijacking figures in the world. It is estimated that a motor vehicle is hijacked every 40 to 54 minutes in South Africa. This implies that more than 25 motor vehicle drivers become victims of hijackings daily. Despite these statistics, little is known about the factors that could increase an individual's potential to become a victim of this crime. In this article, selective research findings of an exploratory study of 12 vehicle hijackers are highlighted in an attempt to elucidate possible factors that could influence target selection during a vehicle hijacking. From the findings it became evident that hijacking does not take place erratically: hijackers are selective in the choice of targets and target selection mostly takes place based on the vehicle driven by the motorist.
Vehicle hijacking--"carjacking"--can be defined as the intentional and unlawful theft or attempted theft of a vehicle by force or threat of force. As an example of the extent to which this crime now occurs in some societies, an average of 35,000 completed and attempted hijackings take place each year in the United States of America (Rand, 1994). Although various factors such as lucrative outlets, national and international organised crime syndicates, inadequate border control, insufficient vehicle identification, corruption, the availability of weapons and limited cooperation between neighbouring countries might contribute to high vehicle hijacking figures worldwide, one of the main reasons for the increase in vehicle hijacking seems to be improved security measures installed in vehicles to prevent the theft. In order to neutralise the effectiveness of modern day anti-vehicle theft devices more and more offenders hijack a vehicle or "steal it with force" in order to secure successful possession.
Although this article focuses on a study that was conducted in South Africa, the relevance of this article to academics and researchers in other countries is twofold. Despite the fact that only a handful of hijackings take place each year in countries such as Australia, it is important to note that vehicle theft as such is on the increase in this specific country. In Australia, vehicle theft has increased from 112,472 vehicles stolen in 1993 to 139,094 during 2000 (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2001). As it is estimated that Australia has the second-highest rate of vehicle theft victimisation in the world (Van Kesteren, Mayhew & Nieuwbeerta, 2000) one can assume that motorists will utilise anti-theft devices in order to curb this crime. If we consider that the shift from theft to hijacking (also known as functional displacement) is a common phenomenon in countries with high hijacking figures, such as South Africa, it is not unlikely that the installing of sophisticated alarm systems and immobilisers to curb vehicle theft might cause an escalation in vehicle hijacking figures.
Apart from the possibility of displacement, the incidence of robbery in general is also on the increase in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. The fact that the victimisation rate for robbery during 2000 for New South Wales alone was 206 victims per 100,000 and that this crime increased nationally from 12765 in 1993 to 23,314 in 2000 (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2001) while it increased from 1597 in 1999 to 1666 in 2001 in New Zealand (D. Trappitt, personal communication), further illustrates the suggestion that "theft" facilitated by violence or threats of violence, is not an uncommon phenomenon in these countries.
The author will expound on the extent and nature of vehicle hijacking in South Africa. Although countries such as Australia and New Zealand do not seem to have a problem with vehicle hijacking currently, knowledge about the nature of this violent crime might be empowering in terms of preventing an escalation of this crime to levels that are uncontrollable.
The South African Situation
Extent of Vehicle Hijacking in South Africa
The first hijacking of a vehicle occurred in a township in South Africa during 1976 when an individual was approached by four males carrying knifes. Since 1987 vehicle hijacking has increased to such an extent that it has become a daily occurrence. From 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2000 alone, 14,999 motor vehicles were hijacked in South Africa--a ratio of 34.1/100 000 of the population (Crime Information Analysis Centre, 2000). High car hijacking figures in official crime statistics compelled the South African Government to declare vehicle hijacking a priority crime in 1996. The serious implications it holds for the individual in terms of the loss of property, physical injury and emotional trauma, the negative public response to motor vehicle hijacking, as well as international condemnation, have contributed to the South African Police Service considering hijacking as one of the most serious crimes they have to deal with. It is estimated that a motor vehicle is hijacked every 40 to 54 minutes in South Africa. This implies that more than 25 motor vehicle drivers become victims of hijackings daily (Myerson, 1995). Although it is still classified as armed robbery in official crime statistics, a separate code was allocated for vehicle hijacking in 1991.
South Africa's history of apartheid (and the culture of violence associated with it) as well as the socioeconomic conditions (such as poverty and unemployment) played an important role in the sudden increase of this crime. Another major reason for high hijacking figures in South Africa seems to be the ineffectiveness of the South African criminal justice system. Statistics show that for every 1000 crimes committed in South Africa, approximately 450 are reported, 230 solved, 100 criminals prosecuted, 77 sentenced, 36 imprisoned and a mere 8 serve a sentence for more than 2 years (Nedcor Project on Crime, Violence and Investment, 1996). The ease with which bail is obtained, the abolition of the death penalty and light sentences confirm the fact that the present criminal justice system is not functioning at a level where it constitutes a credible deterrent to criminals. Hijackers are known to "laugh openly" at the impotence of the system not only to deter criminals, but also to punish them and prevent crime in general (Erasmus, 1996).
Because international scientific research on the topic is limited and South Africa is viewed as the hijacking capital of the world, South African research can offer valuable insight into this violent crime. Although the modus operandi of South African vehicle hijackers is not quintessential, it is possible that they might share characteristics with vehicle hijackers in other parts of the world or that a similar modus operandi is followed by these hijackers. The aim of the article, however, is not only to expand knowledge on vehicle hijacking, but also to stimulate much needed research in this neglected field of interest.
Nature of Vehicle Hijacking in South Africa
Hijacking in South Africa is a group activity that is usually executed by two to four males. Three basic roles are allocated to group members that approach the vehicle, namely, the "pointer" (the individual pointing the weapon), the "driver" (the individual who drives the vehicle) and the "searcher" (the one responsible for searching the individual and the vehicle for weapons and anti-hijack devices) (Davis, 1999).
Young black males aged between 12 and 25 are usually the offenders. Females are very rarely involved in the active hijacking of vehicles, although they may be used as accomplices to attract the attention of motorists.
Vehicle hijackers in South Africa prefer specific days to hijack vehicles. Although any day is viewed as a "good day for hijacking" (depending on the time of the order and demand of the vehicle on order), weekdays are popular because of the availability of vehicles during the week. Peak hour is considered a high risk time for hijacking because there are more vehicles on the road, which also makes it difficult for police to shoot at hijackers.
Places identified as preferred hijack spots are residences, traffic lights and intersections and shopping centres (Davis, 1999). One of the main reasons for the popularity of residential areas is because it is easier to surprise people in residential areas because they feel safe and tend to relax at home--a factor that increases their vulnerability. Because individuals are forced to stop at traffic lights and intersections, it is easy to spot a vehicle on order and approach the driver/owner of the vehicle …