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Pretoria - A vote of no confidence in Mamelodi East police has been passed by local community members as looting of shops, and injuring and killing foreign shop owners entered its third week.
The residents said they had lost all faith in the police and could not rely on them for protection.
Community members and local business owners said they lived in fear of criminal elements after police stood by and watched as young men went on the rampage, looting shops and in the process chasing foreign shopkeepers out of the township.
More than 300 Somali nationals have fled the informal settlements of Mandela Village, Phomolong and Nellmapius in Mamelodi East.
Businessmen told the Pretoria News they lived in fear of being attacked and having their businesses looted, saying they hardly slept at night worrying that they too would become victims once the youths ran out of foreign shops to loot.
“Soon there will be no foreigners to attack and no foreign-owned shops to ransack, and they will turn on us, and who will protect us?” asked one businessman, who asked not to be named.
He and others said police inaction in three weeks of carnage had allowed the situation to get out of hand.
The looting began on Saturday three weekends ago, when young men swept through the informal settlements under cover of darkness, targeting Somali-owned shops. They removed shelves and dismantled sinks, carting away heavy fridges, sometimes with meat and cold drinks inside.
“We are effectively left with no shops to buy from; these people provide a service no local person has mastered,” a man said.
He was among those who preferred anonymity, for fear of police and perpetrators.
“We have seen how they attack these foreigners and beat them with stones and other weapons, leaving them for dead,” a woman said.
Affected Somali shop owners spoke about being brutalised by the gangs, some saying they stood and watched while their shops were cleared, while others were beaten up and left inside shops which had been set alight.
They accused the police of standing by while the criminals worked and escaped, only offering to save lives, a claim denied by police officials, who said they always tried to apprehend criminals. But locals reiterated the claims of the foreigners, saying they saw police officers watch and do nothing as shops were looted.
Nhlanhla Mabunda was at the scene when the first looting and killing spree erupted, and said the police had stood by while more than 1 000 community members looted the first Somali-owned supermarket. “They arrived and quickly whisked the Somalis to safety, and were here when the free-for-all looting started,” she said.
Phomolong community policing forum’s January Khoza said it had been agreed at community meetings that everyone needed to report anyone involved.
“We agree that it would be the best way to flush these criminal elements out, but no one has come forward with names,” he said.
But the police could not be trusted to treat whistleblowers with confidence, locals explained, saying their fear was that their names and information would end up in the wrong hands.
“Of course we know them. They live among us, with us, but who wants their shack burnt down or to be beaten by them?” a mother said.
Provincial police spokesman Captain Tsekiso Mofokeng said the community had to come forward and report incidents of police officers aiding and abetting criminals.
“We need details to investigate. We urge the community to give us times and dates.”
He offered confidentiality and protection, but community members said reporting cops to cops was a sham: “You will only land in trouble, so no, until they do their job of tracking them down we will keep a safe distance and hope to survive,” Jacob Masilela said.