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Pretoria - Somali shop owners from Mamelodi East have been forced to flee the area and cram together in a house in Pretoria West with barely enough space, rather than face death.
This follows what are believed to be xenophobic attacks during which their shops were looted and one of them killed since the violence started on Saturday.
About 300 men, women and children now live together in the Somali-owned Pretoria West house.
“We are contemplating going back to our war-torn country, where imminent death would be better than dying here,” one shop owner said.
He was among a group who had escaped the strife in the dead of Tuesday night in Mamelodi East, after watching a fellow Somali being attacked by a group of young people who also raided, and emptied, his spaza shop.
The foreign national said things had quickly gotten out of hand during what he referred to as xenophobic attacks. “They have been targeting our businesses. Since Saturday organised groups of youth have been coming with so much force they swept everything in their path.”
The groups, of up to 100 young men, looted the shops of everything – from food to barrels of paraffin, cold drinks and airtime vouchers.
The Somalians said one owner was in Pretoria West when he was informed that his shop was under attack. He rushed there, only to be attacked and killed by an angry mob, they said.
“They broke his skull and many bones in his body. His face was a complete mess,” another Somali man said.
Abdirahman Khalif, who had his left hand in plaster yesterday, had stayed on until Tuesday evening, when the mob descended on his shop.
“I’d just been warned that they were coming my way. I had called the cops and locked up, hoping to escape before they arrived.”
But the group arrived first. Some went straight for the security gates of his shop, a handful came for him, swiping at him with knives and knocking him to the ground, all the while telling him he had overstayed his welcome in the community.
“They hit me with a steel pole and cut my hand with a sharp object.”
A fellow Somali, who had witnessed the attack, bundled him into a car and rushed him to Kalafong Hospital, where he was treated for a broken arm.
“We have nothing and no one to turn to, because the police have been ignoring us and leaving us vulnerable to the attacks,” Abdi Abdullah Omar said.
Looters had taken everything he owned, including his clothes, blankets and furniture. “I have been in these clothes since Monday, but I count myself lucky to have escaped with my documentation, and my life,” the 43-year-old said.
The Somali nationals said they would eat from their stock until they received assistance, but their immediate worry was the cold at night, as they have no blankets. “The city and government have not intervened in this humanitarian crisis, maybe we are better off going back home,” Omar said.
Police spokesman Captain Tsekiso Mofokeng said investigations into the attacks were continuing.