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I stared down deadly assassins who kill for just £1k & are turning a holiday beach paradise into a blood-soaked warzone – The Sun

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IN a South African beach paradise a taxi rolls in idle with more than 100 bullet holes puncturing its side.

This blood-soaked ambush in Kwazulu-Natal – which left 11 passengers dead in 2018 – is the work of ruthless assassins who kill for cash, earning as little as £1,000 a hit.

A picture showing a taxi riddled with bullets in South Africa

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A picture showing a taxi riddled with bullets in South AfricaCredit: SABC
Journalist Mariana van Zeller meets an assassin as part of her investigation

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Journalist Mariana van Zeller meets an assassin as part of her investigationCredit: National Geographic for Disney
Security guards with automatic weapon in Pietermaritzburg, after a shooting in 2022

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Security guards with automatic weapon in Pietermaritzburg, after a shooting in 2022Credit: AFP

The global trade of contract killers is on the rise – with more than 3,000 people being murdered every year by hitmen – and with little connection between the murderer and the victim, it’s one of the toughest crimes for cops to solve.

Now the sinister industry has been put under a microscope by National Geographic’s award-winning documentary series Trafficked, fronted by investigative reporter Mariana van Zeller.

Ahead of the new series, which airs from April 1, Mariana tells The Sun what it’s like to stare down the world’s deadliest assassins.

She said: “I have spent a lot of time surrounded by drug dealers, traffickers, smugglers and scammers but this is another level.

“They are committing the worst of the worst crimes. They’re taking away somebody else’s life. It’s really, truly the most horrific crime.

“And it is happening in every country in the world – which is absolutely chilling.”

‘If there’s money, people will die’

Mariana’s investigation into the violent trade began in an industrial area just 15 minutes away from her home in Los Angeles, where she and her fixer met a seasoned assassin.

The hitman, described as “twitchy and nervous”, warned the pair that he wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger if he felt the meeting was a trap.

“He said to me ‘If I feel set up, I’m killing you and everybody else who is there’,” the fixer told Mariana.

“That’s one crazy f***** right there – I’ve seen people pay $80,000 right in front of me for a hit.”

According to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, the Americas has the highest concentration of assassinations.

Mariana van Zeller investigates a new breed of narco starting to gain power in cocaine trafficking networks of Colombia and Brazil: las jefas, lady bosses

Accounting for 37 per cent of all recorded cases – the hits are usually targeted at activists, community leaders and politicians.

Brandishing a semi-automatic Glock pistol, the masked hitman tells Mariana: “Yes I kill people – if that’s what you want to call it.

“If they’ve got the money for it, I don’t hesitate, no questions asked.”

While he refused to put a number on his kills, he claimed to have carried out jobs all over the US, including LA, New York, Chicago and Utah.

He added: “It’s been a few… you never forget. It’s never easy but it always gets done.

“I can’t tell you f****** details… but strictly no kids and no women. Men, I don’t give a s***.”

Assassination epidemic

Yanda, a taxi boss in South Africa, has seen a rise in assassinations

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Yanda, a taxi boss in South Africa, has seen a rise in assassinationsCredit: National Geographic for Disney
A fatal shot during an assassination on a taxi in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

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A fatal shot during an assassination on a taxi in Kwazulu-Natal, South AfricaCredit: SABC
South Africa's crime rate has soared

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South Africa’s crime rate has soaredCredit: AFP

Kwazulu-Natal is home to some of the most picturesque beaches in South Africa but it is also the centre of an assassination epidemic.

In the last seven years, more than 1000 people have died at the hands of contract killers.

And in the eastern coastal province, the industry is booming – turning the once loved getaway destination into a blood-soaked nightmare.

Whistleblowers, business leaders and politicians are gunned down by ruthless killers daily.

However, the most targeted figures are taxi drivers – with 11 killed in the 2018 hit, as they travelled home from a colleague’s funeral.

The taxi business is a lucrative industry that turns over more than £3.16billion ($4 billion) annually.

More than 70 per cent of South Africa’s population rely on taxis for transport – with more than ten million trips recorded per day – making taxi bosses a target.

If I didn’t have my bodyguards, I wouldn’t last longer than 15 minutes

Taxi boss Yanda

Local man Yanda, who runs a fleet of 500 minibus taxis, told Mariana: “I’ve been attacked five times and I know more than one million Rand (roughly £41,742) is currently out on me.”

In the struggle to control the region’s taxi firms, the services of Inkabis – Zulu for hitmen – in hot demand.

Yanda added: “In order to control the situation, you must kill the other person.

“If I didn’t have my bodyguards, I wouldn’t last longer than 15 minutes.

“It is very easy to hire an Inkabi. In fact, they come to you asking for a job.”

30 ‘kills’

Durban, in the Kwazulu-Natal region,  is one of the pristine coastal areas marred by the assassination epidemic

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Durban, in the Kwazulu-Natal region, is one of the pristine coastal areas marred by the assassination epidemicCredit: Alamy
Mariana interviews a middle man who connects people with assassins

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Mariana interviews a middle man who connects people with assassinsCredit: National Geographic for Disney
A cache of illegal firearms found by police during a raid on suspected assassin's home

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A cache of illegal firearms found by police during a raid on suspected assassin’s homeCredit: Facebook/IntelligenceBureauSA

Further inland in the northern outskirts of Johannesburg, Mariana met with a college graduate who became an Inkabi and arms dealer in a region crippled by poverty.

JoJo told Mariana it was impossible to find legitimate work after he finished school.

He said: “When there is no money coming in, then you mix with the people selling drugs.

“You become a hitman for the person selling drugs.

“As long as there is money, we don’t care.

“In total, I would say I have killed close to 30 people.”

“Whether it drugs, taxis, even politics now, it’s busy, constantly… people need to die

Hitman JoJo

JoJo said poverty was the biggest reason people were driven to crime.

But he also admitted being an assassin barely paid the bills – as he usually takes home just £1,000 (25,000 Rand) for a hit.

JoJo added: “There’s always a killing that needs to be done.

“Whether it drugs, taxis, even politics now, it’s busy, constantly… people need to die.

“You either die crying or you die fighting.

“Most of the time it makes me feel better because I know the people I’m going after are also bad people.”

South Africa murder epidemic

South Africa’s is the eighth most dangerous country in the worlds.

The  per capita murder rate for 2022-2023 was 36.4 per 100,000, according to Statista.

The figure marks a 50 per cent increase compared to 2012-13

Saint Kitts and Nevis has the highest murder rate, at 65, followed by Jamaica at 60.9

The UK rate is under 1 per 100,000

The US murder rate is 6.38 per 100,000

Crime and corruption

Ex-cop Torrence said South Africa's police force struggled with corruption

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Ex-cop Torrence said South Africa’s police force struggled with corruptionCredit: National Geographic for Disney
Police at the scene of a 2021 shooting which killed five people

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Police at the scene of a 2021 shooting which killed five peopleCredit: Getty

South Africa is currently awash with more than two million illegal firearms, it has been reported.

However, one gun runner claims corrupt police are among the main arms sellers.

Under an alias of ‘Vuzi’, the man told Mariana he bought dozens of guns off cops and even sourced heavy weapons like R5s and R4s from the military.

Vuzi said: “I just went to the police station to pick up a 9mm handgun from them.

“Say they arrest you with a gun today, that gun they are going to sell to somebody like me.”

Vuzi’s seemingly wild allegations were bolstered by a former member of the South African police.

Torrence, who spent more than 25 years in the force, claimed it was as corrupt as “the day is long”.

He said: “Police are scared of criminals and the truth needs to be told.

“I have seen many times police giving criminals their own uniforms to kill people.

“When they recover the guns, the police go back and sell them – I have seen that many times.

“They’ve also got rotten police inside that will advise those criminals, they will tell those criminals what to do and how to do it.

“And If you are arrested, you will just bribe the police inside the prison.”

Mariana put those claims to Bheki Cele, South Africa’s Minister of Police, who has survived assassination attempts himself.

Bheki said: “It is not denied. People are dying but it is exaggerated.

“There are some very dangerous corrupt cops but that number does not surpass the number of good police.”

Official government reports show that more than 7,000 South African police officers had been charged for various crimes in the last five years.

Of that group, 686 were successfully prosecuted in court by the National Prosecuting Authority.

But for Mariana, that figure should be much higher.

She said: “It was crazy to me, the levels of systemic corruption that exist.

“It’s one thing when you hear about law enforcement turning the other way when they’re paid a little bit of money.

“But this was police officers selling their guns, selling their uniforms, clearing the way for assassinations to take place and police officers actually being the hitmen themselves.

“It’s insane. Bheki Cele spoke about the task force that he started and, of roughly 330 people that had been arrested, 47 were police officers.

“That’s over ten per cent that had been involved in assassination in one way or another.

“That is a crazy number that tells you that there is something that is not working in this country.

“My hope with this episode, more than anything, is that people in South Africa, the government in particular, get to watch this and make some sort of change.”

Traffickers season 4 will be available for streaming on April 1 via Hulu, National Geographic and Disney+.

Mariana van Zeller is an investigate reporter for National Geographic

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Mariana van Zeller is an investigate reporter for National GeographicCredit: National Geographic for Disney

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