Vehicle theft spate: Can your stolen car be recovered once it crosses the border? Experts weigh in

A 39-year-old man, was arrested in Limpopo earlier this month after a high-speed vehicle chase, for possession of a stolen Ford Ranger Raptor vehicle which was now heading towards Beitbridge border. Picture: SAPS

A 39-year-old man, was arrested in Limpopo earlier this month after a high-speed vehicle chase, for possession of a stolen Ford Ranger Raptor vehicle which was now heading towards Beitbridge border. Picture: SAPS

Published Mar 17, 2024


Theft of motor vehicles is a constant headache for the South African Police Service (SAPS), motorists and private security companies in all parts of the country.

On a regular basis, IOL has covered stories in the getaway provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, where stolen or hijacked cars are intercepted while being driven towards neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Mozambique respectively.

In the series of stories run by IOL, trends show that the double cab bakkies and the sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are the favourite targets for the criminals, who then make an easy passage onto the freeways in a dash towards the country’s borders.

However, many of the stolen or hijacked vehicles have been intercepted and recovered on the busy South African roads, in some instances with number plates cloned and at times the vehicle’s registration altered.

Members of the popular Tshenolo Private Investigations have shared their experiences in the ruthless business of tracking stolen vehicles in and out of South Africa. Picture: Supplied

Private security company, Tshenolo Private Investigations has gained ballooning social media fame and following with their frequent announcements of recovery of some of the stolen and hijacked cars.

In other in stances, the Tshenolo PI team has had to cross borders, pursuing cars stolen in South Africa and taken into neighbouring countries.

In an interview with IOL, a senior manager at Tshenolo PI, who requested anonymity for his safety, said pursuing a vehicle across the borders is almost mission impossible.

“In terms of vehicles crossing the borders, that is an ongoing issue and it is a problem for us. Once your car crosses the border, it is a whole different ballgame – even if you know where the car is,” said the veteran agent with vast experience in law enforcement.

“You cannot bring that car back, even if you are an investigator, a tracing agent or event the police,” he said.

A 29-year-old man, a South African citizen, was arrested in Polokwane while he was allegedly driving a stolen Toyota Hilux towards Beitbridge border post. Picture: SAPS

“There are proper procedures which you need to follow which include to contact the Interpol, the international vehicle theft unit, the relevant authorities in that country. So, you are able to find your car, or know where exactly where it is, but as for bringing it back, that might take some time.”

On the other hand, outspoken anti-crime activist and presenter of Crime Watch on eTV and eNCA, Yusuf Abramjee said crime statistics show that motor vehicle-related crimes, including hijackings are on the increase.

One of South Africa’s leading anti-crime activists and Crime Watch presenter on eNCA, Yusuf Abramjee spoke to IOL regarding the car theft scourge. Picture: Supplied

“Motor vehicles get stolen for spare parts. They then get stripped within a few hours of being taken,” said Abramjee.

“The majority of the vehicles, the luxury vehicles like 4x4s and some German-made vehicles are taken across borders into neighbouring countries. Those cars can be taken further up north into the African continent for resale,” he said.

“The problem is – the borders need to be strengthened. There needs to be procedures in place to stop these vehicles. Corruption plays a role at the border post where these vehicles are taken out of the country.”

In his advice to motorists, Abramjee said tracking devices play a pivotal role in the recovery of stolen/hijacked vehicles in South Africa.

Last month, a 33-year-old man was intercepted and arrested in Polokwane while he was allegedly driving a Ford Ranger double cab vehicle, stolen in Gauteng, towards the border with Zimbabwe. Picture: SAPS

“However, the criminals also try to stay one step ahead and they can strip the tracking device when the car is stolen. On insurance, yes it is important if you can afford it,” said Abramjee.

“That would be certainly recommended. But the police really need to beef their capabilities and stop the vehicle theft scourge,” he said.

“It continues to rear its ugly head and we know that many cars are taken from South Africa into Mozambique, Botswana, into Zimbabwe via the Beitbridge border post which is a hotspot like Lebombo into Mozambique.”

Abramjee said with his long experience in crime combating, once a vehicle leaves the borders of South Africa, the chances of recovering it “are very, very slim”.

“Once your car is out of the borders of South Africa, even if they can find it, the chances of bringing it back are very, very slim,” he said.

Last year, IOL reported that regional court in Mokopane, in Limpopo, had convicted and sentenced a 35-year-old man who was arrested for possession of a stolen motor vehicle, a silver Toyota Fortuner SUV.

Last year, a 35-year-old man was sentenced to six years behind bars after he was arrested while driving a hijacked Toyota Fortuner along the N1 freeway towards Beitbridge border post to Zimbabwe. Picture: SAPS

At the time, Brigadier Hlulani Mashaba, provincial police spokesperson in Limpopo, said Shane Mthombeni was sentenced to six years of direct imprisonment, without the option to pay a fine.

Another crime expert, Calvin Rafadi commented that the car theft or hijacking syndicates are linked to international crimes and the recent spate of vehicles theft are due to the attraction of exchanging the stolen cars for United States dollars, minerals and other commodities in the African continent.

Crime expert Calvin Rafadi advised that with the scourge of vehicle theft, motorists should use the old-style gear locking devices. Picture: Supplied

“Many of the cars are hijacked for an existing order, the ones that go across the border,” Rafadi told IOL.

“Here we are talking about the SUVs and the 4x4s, which get exchanged for foreign currency like US dollars, Euros, gold or cigarettes which are not produced in South Africa. Some cars are exchanged for minerals like cobalt,” he said.

“These vehicles who hijack you locally are the foot soldiers like the infamous bluelight gangs or the people who target people in their driveways.”

He said the recent trends show that criminals are targeting vehicles with the keyless entry function by decoding the car’s key, entering the vehicle and driving off in minutes.

Crime expert Calvin Rafadi said cars with keyless entry function are being targeted by daring criminals. File Picture

Having a tracking device device, in Rafadi’s view, is of paramount importance.

He said with the spate of vehicle theft in South Africa, motorists are advised to “go old school” by using the old-style steering wheel locking devices.

“If your stolen car goes across the borders, what normally happens is that the police’s car theft unit will communicate with Interpol and Interpol arranges with their counterparts in that country and the car can be brought back,” said Rafadi.

On its website, the SAPS lists some tips from motorists on how to handle situations of hijacking.

“Car jackers may stage a minor accident so they can approach your car. If your car is bumped from behind and you do not feel comfortable with the individual(s) involved in the situation, drive to the nearest police station for help. Do not reach for your purse or valuables. Leave everything behind if forced from the car,” according to SAPS.

Police urge motorists not to resist during incidents of car hijacking. File Picture: Gary Van Wyk

“Your life is more valuable than your possessions. Do not resist, especially if the thief has a weapon. Give up your vehicle with no questions asked and move away.”

As Rafadi recommended, the SAPS also advises on the use of gear locks.

“A gear lock is an affordable and a very effective anti-theft device,” according to SAPS.

Last week, police in Limpopo arrested a 39-year-old man, after a high-speed vehicle chase, for possession of a hijacked Ford Ranger Raptor vehicle – estimated at over R1 million.

A 39-year-old man, was arrested in Limpopo after a high-speed vehicle chase, for possession of a stolen Ford Ranger Raptor vehicle. Picture: SAPS

The popular bakkie, charcoal in colour, was reported stolen in Gauteng, and was recovered on its way to the Beitbridge border post, according to Colonel Malesela Ledwaba.