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They are known as izinkabi assassins who carry out hits in the taxi industry then disappear into the rural obscurity of KwaZulu-Natal.

And they are among the men and women who contributed to a sharp increase in assassinations last year.

Many izinkabi come from Msinga‚ in deep gorges of the Tugela and Buffalo rivers‚ making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to find them.

A new report by the University of Cape Town — entitled The Rule of the Gun: Hits and assassinations in South Africa 2000-2017[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]— has unmasked the dark world of contract killings.

Researchers from the Centre for Criminology at the university as well as the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime established that the demand for hitmen is highest in the taxi industry.

And most assassinations took place in KwaZulu-Natal (40%)‚ followed by Gauteng (24%) and the Western Cape (14%). According to the report‚ izinkabi are sought after by taxi bosses in Gauteng to silence conflicts in the minibus taxi industry.

While they disappear after the job is done‚ they play a more “conspicuous and powerful role” in their own province.

“They tend to remain in the urban centres‚ particularly in hostels‚ and when they need money they enforce their demands‚ such as extorting a taxi from a boss for whom they carried out a hit‚” the report said.

“This is said to be why hitmen emerged as taxi owners in their own right or as security heavies in the province’s taxi industry.”

In addition to hits in the taxi industry‚ researchers classified the crimes into three other categories: political hits‚ hits related to organised crime and hits with a personal motive.

Last year there were 159 reported assassinations and in 2016 there were about 117.

“We feel it is an important way to monitor the nature‚ extent and violence of the country’s evolving criminal economy. What is most disturbing is that there was a 36% increase in our recording of hits or assassinations to the end of 2017‚” said Professor Mark Shaw‚ director of the Centre for Criminology and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

“That increase also took place across all categories‚ so it is important to note that it was not only confined to what is recorded under our category of ‘political’ hits‚ which are those cases that generally make the news. Increases in hits related to taxi conflicts‚ for example‚ have been particularly notable.”

Firearms were used in 83% of hits. In another assassinations criminals stabbed‚ strangled‚ poisoned‚ beat and bludgeoned their victims‚ and orchestrated car “accidents”.

“This research is important as it provides both data and analysis on assassinations in South Africa. It further sheds light on the impact of these assassinations‚ which is far reaching as they undermine South Africa’s democracy‚ judiciary and fair economic competition‚” said Kim Thomas‚ an analyst for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

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