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Pretoria - Looting of shops and the assault on foreign owners have continued unabated in Mamelodi, in what Somali nationals and some residents say is xenophobia, while others insist a few “uncouth” young people are behind the attacks.
More than 100 shops across Mamelodi East and West have been looted and owners forced to flee as young armed men continue their reign of terror, which has left three dead and more than a dozen injured.
The Somalis have taken refuge in a Pretoria West house of a fellow countryman, where more than 300 men sleep outside in the cold while women and children occupy the five bedrooms inside.
The violence began last week when young locals tried to rob a Somali owner shop. One of them was shot and killed when the owner tried to defend himself.
“The young men regrouped and launched an attack on every Somali-owned shop in the area, forcing many to flee only with the clothes on their backs,” Mamelodi East resident Marchal Simela said.
The mob killed a Somali shop owner that evening with their attacks spreading through the township. It attracted more young people, who armed themselves and looted the shops, assaulting any shop owner they came across.
They armed themselves with pangas, knives and an assortment of weapons, hurling xenophobic insults at some foreigners and warning them to leave their streets.
Their modus operandi has been to either enter shops still open, or to break into closed shops by banding together to pull open security gates, looting everything off the shelves, ranging from fridges to personal effects. They also ripped shelves off the walls, and in the case of Abdi Farah Omar’s shop, set fire to it.
“Before they went inside they attacked him, sliced at his forehead and hit him with rocks,” said Ibrahim Ali Abdi, who arrived at the scene just in time to save Omar from death by fire on Saturday.
The attackers had cleaned out the shop, removed the shelves and dismantled the sink, leaving only bare walls. They had then set fire to the paraffin canister before they left.
“I pulled him out of the shop and away from the flames and smoke,” Abdi said. Omar was rushed to Steve Biko Academic Hospital and treated for a deep cut on his forehead and bruises on his body. “My whole body is aching and swollen from the beating,” he said on Monday.
Police and community leaders maintain the attacks are not xenophobic, blaming criminal elements.
A meeting between police and various community structures last week recommended the foreigners evacuate until calm was restored.
“We will meet again today to address the community to bring a stop to this,” community policing forum leader (CPF) Eddie Mnguni said on Monday. The situation was still volatile and the foreign nationals were better off out of the community, but they expected progress soon because the community refused to be held to ransom by a few uncouth young people, he said.
“We are all extremely upset at the attacks,” he said, adding residents were also greatly inconvenienced because there were no shops left in the township. Police confirmed the continued attacks, and said they’d have a report after Tuesday’s meeting.