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Johannesburg - Xenophobic attacks have flared up in Duduza, with foreign businessmen accusing police of turning a blind eye when locals attack them, loot their stores and drive them out of the Ekurhuleni township.
One senior Duduza police officer is alleged to have told foreigners fleeing from a mob looting their shops to “go and eat grass” when they asked for help on Tuesday night.
Displaced foreigners who have since fled the area said on Wednesday police just stood and watched as a raging mob stormed their shops, looting and damaging their property.
Homeless and sitting around under trees at a park in Dunnottar, Springs, on Wednesday, they said they had slept in the nearby church. Others had slept in their cars as there was not enough space in the church.
A 30-year-old Somali man whose eyes were red from lack of sleep said that at around 1am on Tuesday he was trying to help a fellow countryman when they decided to ask Captain Thembi Nxumalo for help.
Nxumalo is a member of a task team that was established two months ago to deal with the violence against foreigners.
However, she allegedly told the man that he’d better go away from Duduza.
“She told him that he could go wherever he wants and eat grass.
“How can someone say someone must go and eat grass? Are we animals? I was so shocked by what she said,” said the man, with those around him confirming they had heard Nxumalo telling the businessman off.
Nxumalo and her colleagues denied this, inviting those with complaints to come forward and make an affidavit.
“How can I do that if my duty is to protect people? I was there, helping them and working with representatives from different countries. They are angry and frustrated, and talking too much,” she said.
A 31-year-old Ethiopian said that when about 50 people stormed his shop and started looting it, he had asked for help from police officers.
“I asked them: ‘Why are you not protecting us? If you don’t protect us, who will?’ But they said they don’t have the powers to chase the looters.”
Another businessman said police left looters who were busy emptying his shop and started searching him and other foreigners instead.
“Some of the looters were even giving the police some of the looted stuff. We asked the police why they were not doing anything but they said the looters had many rights,” said the 26-year-old man.
The acting station commander for Duduza police station, Captain Bheki Mhlungu, said he did not know anything about the allegations and that no one had been arrested because, as soon as police arrived at the scene, the looters would flee.
“Understand that these are aggrieved people and this is the second time this is happening to them and they work very hard for their money.”