Foreign national traders living in fear in Durban
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Durban - Foreign nationals say they are traumatised after they were allegedly attacked by a mob purporting to be members of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) this week.
The street traders said the incident happened on Sunday in the Durban CBD. The incident comes after foreign-owned businesses were shut down and informal traders removed last November by a group purporting to be MK vets. However, the MKMVA in the province has denied that its members have been involved in the attacks on foreigners.
The group of foreign nationals, comprised of refugees and some asylum seekers, slept overnight on Sunday at the Diakonia Centre and appealed for assistance from humanitarian lobbying organisation’s Refugee Social Services (RSS) and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).
Provincial police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said Durban Central SAPS were investigating charges of theft and intimidation.
While the group alleged that several people were attacked and threatened, Gwala said only one trader had opened a case.
“It is alleged by the complainant that she was on Soldiers Way selling stuff when a group of people stole her suitcase containing shoes and other belongings. The victim was also threatened not to sell anymore,” said Gwala.
Metro Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad, said its officers responded to the incident.
“One person was injured and there were no arrests,” he said.
A street trader, 45, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, told The Mercury yesterday that she had witnessed the incident.
The mother of five, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said she was a legal street trader, with a permit to operate at the Soldier's Way fleamarket.
She said she had been selling shoes and suitcases at the Sunday fleamarket since 2011 but now had no way to provide for her family as her goods had been stolen during the incident.
The trader said foreign national traders had been dealing with xenophobic attacks, threats and bullying since last November.
“It started in November and again on the 11 December, a group of people came to us and said this land does not belong to you. They said they were MK veterans and asked for all the traders to tell them various body parts in isiZulu, if we didn’t know, they knew we were foreign, that’s how they identified us. We went to the Durban central police station and asked for protection,” she said.
The woman said the police presence helped but the bullying continued when police were absent.
“We can’t live in fear like this, it is too much. We have rent to pay and school fees, we have no hope. We are tired of promises from politicians and leaders because this happens and we are left with nothing.”
Provincial MKMVA leader Zibuse Cele said distanced the association from the group that attacked foreigners on Sunday.
“We are not happy about what happened or that people are pretending to be us, using our uniforms and camouflage caps. We have heard about these attacks, that is not us we discuss things and many of our members are in Nkandla,” he said.
Acting KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Kwazi Mshengu said he had noted with concern the media reports suggesting that attacks directed at foreign nationals had re-erupted and called on anyone with information to report the incident to police.
“As the provincial government we strongly condemn any attacks and intimidation against anyone based on nationality, ethnicity or race because such incidents, which may be perceived as xenophobic violence, have no place in society. We call for calm and peaceful co-existence in our province. We have directed law enforcement authorities to maintain law and order in eThekwini because we are not in a banana republic.
“Members of the public are also urged to contact the police and report anyone planning on carrying out attacks on foreign nationals,” said Mshengu.
Yasmin Rajah, director of RSS which helps refugees and asylum seekers integrate into South Africa, said: “The concern is that there is a group that is organised and stopping innocent people from earning a living. They are refugees and asylum seekers, who have a right to live and work in South Africa. We are engaging with the municipality and mayor’s office and urgent action needs to happen.”
Nomagugu Mlawe, Durban legal clinic office manager at LHR, said there appeared to be systematic attacks on foreign national traders.
“We, together with RSS, have called for urgent intervention from the mayor’s office, and had a zoom meeting last Tuesday with the UN High Commissioner, Informal Traders and Small Business Support Unit, (and) acting MEC for Community Safety and Liaison, to address the critical situation,” said Mlawe.