Sasolburg - When the looting started on Sunday afternoon, foreign shopowners in Zamdela knew they had to prepare for the worst.
“We heard people had already broken windows in the banks in town and we had a feeling we would be next. That is when we started calling other shopowners and warning them to be careful,” said a Pakistani man, who did not want to be named.
About an hour later, their worst fears were realised.
Zamdela residents started to close off the roads in the township, and the shopowners fled to the nearest houses, leaving their shops vulnerable to looting and theft.
“We ran for cover because no one wanted to get hurt. We ran to the landlord’s houses and some people who offered us refuge,” said Mohammed Alli.
By evening, without any real help from the police, some of the owners decided to take vans to try to help others who might still be stuck in their shops.
“We had to risk ourselves to help our crying brothers,” said Alli.
The Pakistani shopkeepers said they had not been given a chance to open any cases, after they had been waiting for three hours for help at the police station.
“As soon as everyone was at the police station, we were shipped to the fire station.”
The same happened with some Somalis, though some of them were luckier than others.
“Two white men came to my rescue and warned me of the trouble. They helped me put my goods in their van and took them to a safe place in town,” said a shopowner, who did not want to be named.
Most fled to the Sasolburg police station. But after they realised they would receive little help from the police, they fled to Deneysville.
“We slept outside the police station over there, afraid because anything could happen, but we had nowhere to go,” said a group leader, who goes by the name of Osmon.
Both groups were then taken to the Sasolburg police station.
From there, they were taken to a safe haven in Vaalpark.
The foreigners, however, don’t want to be at the haven.
About 220 Somalis, Pakistanis and Ethiopians are staying in old, unused caravans and feel they have been hidden from the world.
“It’s like we don’t exist because nobody knows our whereabouts,” one said.
The caravans have no water and the windows are jammed shut, making it harder to sleep in the heat. The foreigners sleep on the floors in groups of four and share blankets.
The toilets are blocked and flies are all over the faeces, which will not flush down. The foreigners have been there for three days and will stay there for as long as it takes to restore their shops.
All the refugees and asylum-seekers ran away with only the clothes on their backs. Their brothers and sisters escaped to neighbouring areas such as Vereeniging, and to the Free State and Mpumalanga.
Ayob Mungalee, of People Seeking Justice, said it was unfair that the government did not look after foreigners after such incidents.
“It’s not the first time it happens, and when a group are affected in this way, they need to be compensated and placed back in the position they were in before. We’ll approach the courts with this matter,” he said.