Steep rise in carjackings forces firm to issue staff with safety handbook

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The surge in car hijackings in South Africa, which has reached 35 a day, has prompted one of the country's largest companies to issue staff with a safety handbook.

The eight-page guide drawn up by police for the internal use of the telecommunications firm Telkom lists the dos and don'ts when in a vehicle, who is most vulnerable and where, the types of hijackers and the most risky vehicles.

According to the Hijacking Awareness Guide, drivers are most at risk in front of their own homes, followed by those sitting in parked cars and at traffic lights.

Drivers are advised to be vigilant at all times, lock every door, not to leave windows open or drive at night.

Motorists are told never to be fooled by false appeals for help by "stranded" drivers or accidents, particularly by being rammed from behind. Often the stranded driver or person nudging the car is part of a gang waiting for the owner to open the door. The attackers are usually armed.

For newcomers to South Africa, home security and the fear of carjacking become a way of life. Car doors are always locked from the inside and alarms installed on even modest vehicles.

According to South African police figures, car hijackings declined between 2001-02 to 2004-05 but increased in the past financial year to 12,807 or 35 a day. Surprisingly, high performance cars such as BMWs or Audis are not the thieves' favourite. Data accompanying the Telkom handout claimed that, last year, the Nissan Hiace van came top of the hijacking league followed by the Nissan 1400 and Toyota Hilux "bakkies" – open-topped vans favoured by workmen.

The guide said most hijackers were men but women were sometimes used to lure the unsuspecting. "Women are used to lull potential victims into a false sense of security, since most of us feel less threatened in the presence of a woman as opposed to a man.

"These people are sometimes well dressed, but not always. They may wear a jacket or jersey under which they may conceal weapons."

The guide issued to the company's 30,000 staff states there are five types of hijackings: freight, transport, showmanship, operational and syndicate.

Barely a day goes by without media stories of a car jacking but most go unreported. Last Friday, a 42-year-old mother was shot in the leg in Johannesburg after she got out of her Mercedes to collect her daughter from school.