In 2010 there were 31 kidnappings in Tembisa; five years later in 2015 (the most recent year with data), there were 60. That’s more than one abduction every week. Two years later, in early June 2017, rumours of a spike in child kidnappings began to circulate in Tembisa, Gauteng.
The following year, three unidentified men kidnapped a 17-year-old and demanded a ransom from the parents. In a separate incident, a six-year-old child was playing with friends when she was grabbed and forced into a silver sedan. The child was found abandoned at a shopping centre in Kaalfontein after the parents paid the R2,000.00 ransom. In total, five children were taken in Tembisa in December of 2018.
Police initially refuted these as rumours, denying the claims on account of there being no official cases opened at the station. Even though crime reporting is notoriously low in low-income areas. Eventually, they acknowledged the sudden surge in abductions and responded by doing little more than asking people to be more vigilant.
In November 2019 (the month of Activism Against the Abuse of Women and Children), a group of twenty-something locals, called The Movement, created the Navigator, a backpack with a built-in panic button.
The panic button is connected to an internet-connected mobile device embedded in the backpack. Pressing the panic button instantly sends the victim’s location data to a predefined emergency contact. It works the other way around, too: with the call option on the device, parents can call the panic button to check on their children and monitor them. A key detail is that the emergency contact doesn’t need to have an app on their phone. The panic button still works if you can’t afford a smartphone.
Coming up with the idea for the backpack was the easy part. Bringing the idea into reality presented an entourage of challenges that most inventors are familiar with: lack of funding, lack of early-stage support, and difficulty communicating the value of the idea to other people. Undeterred, the group pushed forward and over the course of a year funded the project with pocket money from parents.
For all of its merits, the bag is however not commercially viable: the Navigator is expensive to make, so adding a markup would make it unaffordable for the typical person in Tembisa, where the average monthly household income is R5,000. So they’re looking for corporate or government sponsorship to get the bag distributed. The backpack is a CSR led marketing campaign ripe for the picking.
The story of the Navigator backpack is a prime example of how creative thinking can be used by anyone that can identify a problem, recognise the available resources around them, and then persevere long enough to find a way to arrange those resources into a novel solution.
The group can be contacted on 067 164 7259.