Police officials said they feared for the lives of the travellers, who were reported by their minibus driver to have been abducted by five armed men.
Hundreds of extra police were pulled into the city to search for the tourists, who were apparently travelling from Johannesburg International airport to a hotel in Sandton, one of Johannesburg's most affluent suburbs.
The men were booked into the Sandton Sun Hotel under the name D Sutzalakssana. It is believed that the booking was made through American Express in London and that Mr Sutzalakssana comes from West Sussex, although American Express refused to confirm this.
Janusch Lyczynski, director of Chauffeur Driven Tours, the company which picked up the men, said his driver, Peter Manyekane, had been hijacked on the main M1 motorway in the city.
Mr Manyekane, who said he had touted for the trip at the airport, was ordered out and they were driven off towards Alexandra township. Police found the minibus abandoned. There was no sign of the passengers or their luggage, but no traces of blood were found either.
Mr Manyekane, 44, said the Zulu-speaking armed men pointed guns at him before throwing him out of the vehicle and driving off with the three occupants.
He said the hijack took place just minutes after he had tried to reassure his worried passengers that Johannesburg - dubbed "the crime capital of Africa" - was becoming safer.
"They asked me how it was and I said it was coming along all right - not like before," said Mr Manyekane. He added that the attack had taken him and his three passengers by surprise. "We did not talk to each other, we were so scared," he said.
Mr Manyekane said he had feared for his life in the attack and had frozen when he was hurled to the ground and robbed of his wallet. "There were many other cars, but no one came to help me," he said. Nearby residents had also been too scared to let him use their telephone to alert the police.
Mr Lyczynski accused the Alexandra police of reacting too slowly and of "asking too many useless questions". He asked why a police helicopter had not been summoned as the vehicle was clearly identifiable, with the registration number painted on the roof. But police spokesman Capt Deon Peens said the flying squad, the highway patrol and local police were scouring Alexandra.
The abduction is bad news for Johannesburg. A 1996 travel guide gives four highlights of any stay in Johannesburg. One of them is "not being mugged".Reuse content