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An ANC proposal to curtail township spaza shops owned by foreign nationals has come under fire from People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), whose co-ordinator Braam Hanekom slammed the move as misguided and a mistake.
He responded on Sunday to comments by ANC provincial secretary Songezo Mjongile, who said an explosion of foreign-owned shops had out-muscled local owners. They must be curtailed otherwise it could result in tension between the groups and outbreaks of xenophobia, Mjongile said.
Mjongile said the issue came up at the ANC provincial general council two weeks ago where concerns were raised about township entrepreneurs “disappearing”.
“What we are saying is there needs to be intervention,” Mjongile said when approached following a Sunday Times report that the ANC wanted migrants stopped from running spaza shops in townships.
Hanekom said: “We think this is a huge mistake. We are very disappointed to hear this. We are hoping to communicate with the ANC provincial chairman about this issue. We don’t know the number of foreign entrepreneurs in townships, but can safely assume that the rights of the number of people who pay cheaper for a loaf of bread far outweigh the interest of local shop owners.”
ANC provincial chairman Marius Fransman, a former International Relations and Co-operation deputy minister, had in the past expressed concern about Somali refugees, and would be asked for an explanation, said Hanekom.
He said the notion to curtail foreign-owned spaza shops would champion the interests of an “elite minority”.
“If it should come to a vote on this issue, I don’t believe the people of Khayelitsha would vote for foreigners being removed. Part of the problem is some politicians are more concerned about local businesses than about people. It undermines the rights of the majority of our people,” he said.
Mjongile said it was “unnatural that almost all shops in townships are owned by foreigners. More locals need to participate and need to be supported… it creates tension. If we are not attending to it, it becomes a source of division.”
He said more local small businesses should come to the fore and the ANC wanted the government to support them. He said foreign-owned shops should be regulated.
Fransman said: “It is not a Western Cape proposal. It is part of a national discussion document. This is not the position of the ANC Western Cape leadership. The bottom line is we must be sensitive how we treat our fellow Africans. They are our brothers and sisters.”
He said the interests of locals and foreign nationals should be balanced. “We need to find ways to regulate the situation better, but we need not be xenophobic. We must be sensitive.”
Patrick Ngani, SA National Civics Association leader in Khayelitsha, said: “We have not been consulted about this issue. It is true some local owners are suffering while foreigners benefit, but it is not proper to say foreigners must not run shops.”
He was uncertain how many foreign-owned spaza shops there were in Khayelitsha, but believed there were more than 150.
“There is nothing wrong about coming with a proposal, but discuss it at grassroots level first. There must be a way to find an amicable solution.”
Khayelitsha Development Forum secretary Zoliswa Lonja said it supported regulation of foreign-owned shops. “There is a situation where almost every third house in some areas is a spaza shop – most of them are owned by foreigners. Regulation is critical, but we also support integration.”
She said foreigners were better at business and there was potential for conflict.
“Poverty and unemployment turn people to run spaza shops, leading to overpopulation of shops. A joint working relationship between all groups is the way to go. It can help avoid the problem of xenophobia.”
Zanokhayo Retailers Association member Loyiso Doyi said: “Foreigners do not empower local citizens. They employ their own. We suggested to them to sit down and discuss joint ventures and working together. We don’t want to chase them out, but the government seem not willing to assist us. There are over 600 foreigner spaza shops in Khayelitsha. Can you imagine how locals could survive? They are killing locals.”
Asked for a solution, he said: “There are two. They must pack up and go – which is very harsh. Or they can sit down with us and discuss joint ventures.” Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich declined to comment, while messages left for the Somali Traders Association spokesman Abdi Ahmed were not returned.