Pretoria - Xenophobic attacks have erupted and more than 60 shops owned by foreign nationals have been looted this week.
The attacks have followed a series of events triggered by the death of John Oarabile Tau in Refilwe township, near Cullinan.
Tau, 41, was allegedly hit with an iron rod by a Pakistani shop owner, who had accused him of shoplifting, about a week ago. He died at the weekend in hospital and will be buried in his ancestral home of Taung in North West on Saturday.
However, it allegedly emerged later that Tau was about to pay for the items he intended to buy and was not with the people who had helped themselves to some goods from the shelves when the attack happened.
On Tuesday, members of the community approached the businessman and demanded that he contribute towards transporting the coffin. He offered only R3 000, yet the Tau family paid R9 000 to transport the coffin, neighbours said.
As the news spread, so did the anger against foreign nationals trading in the Pretoria East township. By sunset, residents had gone on a looting spree, with more than 20 shops broken into and cleaned out.
The situation worsened later in the evening.
All roads in and around the area were barricaded with burning tyres and stones on Wednesday. Police were escorting foreign shop owners out of the area to protect them.
Stun grenades were used to disperse the protesting residents as they wanted to stop the cars and attack the shop owners.
Earlier, a white Isuzu bakkie tried to leave the area and the occupants fired shots at protesters blocking their way. At lunchtime, a crowd of people attacked police and members of the media.
Even the police retreated further down the road soon after a car belonging to The New Age newspaper team had been smashed.
The police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Thick black smoke filled the air from at least three cars that had been set alight.
Several people were allegedly shot and injured by the shop owners attempting to protect their businesses. Schools were closed, and most people did not go to work.
One of those injured was 23-year-old Phindi Mohajane, whose mother, Maphefo, said her daughter had been on her way from work and knew nothing about the protests.
Mohajane was one of six people in hospital at the time of going to press. On the streets, people were carrying bags of mealie meal, bags of potatoes and other items looted from shops.
Justice Maila, one of the protesters, was unapologetic and said all foreigners who owned businesses in the area should go.
“We do not want them here. We had a life before they arrived and will cope just fine without them,” he said.
Asika Ahmed, a Bangladeshi national who works at one of the looted shops, said he was on duty when a large crowd stormed in on Wednesday just after 9.30am.
“There were too many of them. They broke the doors and pulled down the shelves. Everything happened so fast. They left with my Nissan bakkie. We are in shock and do not know what we are going to do,” he said.
Melina Manganyi had been with the protesters since the riot erupted on Tuesday.
She told the Pretoria News that the community was angry with the foreign business owners, and the situation had been brewing before Tau’s death.
“At one shop, the owners started to fight back. Police were called in. They chased the crowd away, but everyone would return the moment the police left.
“By evening the situation was out of control. We closed the roads at about 3am on Wednesday.
“We have not slept for more than 24 hours. Many shops were torn to pieces. All of us are in agreement that the foreigners have to go,” she said.
Ibrahim Shuriye, head of community safety for the Somali Association SA, said it was sad that foreign nationals continued to live in fear in a democratic country such as South Africa.
“At least 60 shops belonging to foreign nationals from all over the world were targeted and two of the owners hurt. Xenophobic attacks are happening daily, and we would like to appeal to the government for protection. The situation cannot continue like this,” he said.