Durban - Premier Willies Mchunu held an emergency meeting with owners of small businesses in KwaMashu, north of Durban, following threats against foreign traders including that they should leave the area by this week.
Mchunu was accompanied by economic development MEC Sihle Zikalala and eThekwini deputy mayor Fawzia Peer at the meeting, which started in the evening and continued into the night. Somali and Ethiopian business owners attended the meeting. They are competing with locals in running tuck-shops.
Tensions were high at the local police station where the meeting was held as local business owners insisted that the seven day ultimatum they had given the foreign business owners would be over by Thursday and foreigners must close their shops.
“We hear that there is tension among tuck-shop owners, and now for fear of escalation of the tensions we have decided to come to listen and make sure that the rule of law is followed,” Mchunu said.
Mchunu said Zikalala would lead the path to finding a solution since he was responsible for small business development.
“We should know what has caused this dissatisfaction so that we know what to do. We want to hear if certain people are saying foreign nationals should close their shops.
“These are Africans in Africa, and South Africa is part of Africa,” he said.
Mchunu said these new development in KwaMashu did not mean that social cohesion engagements between locals and foreigners were failing since there had not been a new escalation of attacks against foreigners.
“But we have to address the root causes, and we cannot do it by ourselves and we cannot impose on them.
“Our main issue is that there must not be instability in the province,” said Mchunu.
Vusumuzi Msomi, a South African living in the area, said by tomorrow all foreign owned businesses operating in the area should be closed.
“We want them to close their shops and leave. They will return only on our own terms after we have had successful negotiations with the government,” said Msomi.
Msomi said local business owners had since 2014 been raising concerns about the unfair business practices of the foreign nationals. He said the competitors were employed by unidentified business owners to penetrate townships and destroy local owned businesses.
“Since 2014 we have been holding meetings without finding solutions, which is why we sent letters to foreigners telling them, peacefully, that we are giving them 14 days to close down.
“Their shops are spreading across the township, leaving us with no space to trade hence we are forced to close our shops,” said Msomi.
Ethiopian businessman Jamal Mohummed, who spoke on behalf of the foreigners, acknowledged that there were foreigners who had been pushing local shops out of business.
“As foreigners we have held several meetings where we asked them (other foreigners) to stop opening their shops close to those owned by locals because it is unfair. Locals need to make income to support their families,” he said.
Mohummed said foreigners feared for their lives, and were asking for government protection.
“We have received letters informing us to leave. We are being accused of opening shops everywhere.”