Ibrahim Shurie, chairman of Pretoria Foreign Nationals, holds a Quran as he looks at the bare shelves in a shop of a fellow Somalian that was looted. Photo: Masi Losi

Pretoria - Attacks on foreign-owned shops in Mamelodi East have forced some owners to flee and leave their goods behind.

Confidence in law enforcement officers has all but evaporated.

Only one person has been arrested in four days of looting.

While some owners managed to pack the contents of their spaza shops into vehicles and move out of the area between Sunday and Tuesday, some said saving their lives was more important than their stock.

On Tuesday night a man was shot dead as looting continued. According to police spokeswoman Mirna von Benecke, it could not be established who had shot the man, or under what circumstances.

Von Benecke said the man was a South African aged 26. The violence had spread to Nellmapius on Tuesday night, she said.

At least two people were reportedly killed over the weekend and about 30 shops attacked and left empty, in what locals and the Somali nationals who own the shops said were xenophobic attacks.

The owner of a shop, which was under attack from a group of youths when a Pretoria News team arrived at midday on Tuesday, left. He said the trouble of arranging storage, putting petrol into a vehicle and getting accommodation while waiting for things to settle down would be too much.

“We can always re-stock, no matter the time it takes, but there is only one life and it needs immediate saving,” said the man.

The group of young people had tried to rip the security gate from his shop to gain access and loot it, in a rampage that started on Saturday.

The chairman of Pretoria Foreign Nationals, Ibrahim Shurie, said Somali spaza shops were being specifically targeted by rampaging mobs who worked together to break down security gates, gain entry and then empty the shelves.

“The policemen who arrive at the crime scenes have not helped us. These are large groups of people and by now they could have arrested quite a number if they put effort into it,” he said.

Police on Tuesday advised the shop owners to pack up and move out of the community until the situation had calmed.

“The only way to save your lives and shops is to leave,” a police officer told them. Explaining that they could not provide non-stop security for all the shops, the officer said the youth involved in the looting were troublemakers, who would stop at nothing to feed their drug habits.

“We need to resolve the impasse with community leaders and members of youth groups before they can open shop again,” he said.

Provincial police spokesman Captain Tsekiso Mofokeng said, however, it was not an official police stance to advise the shop owners to leave, saying: “Ours is to offer protection, not frustration.”

They were facilitating meetings between community members, official structures and the Somali nationals.

He said the attacks were not xenophobic, adding: “Criminal elements are at play here. Young lawless people are on the loose, and we are investigating with the aim of arresting them.”

One person, who was involved in a shooting at a shop on Saturday, was arrested, said Mofokeng. More could be arrested if victims came forward to open cases.

He said they were not aware of any deaths. Two cases of burglary had been opened; another of malicious damage to property could be opened soon.

“The Somali nationals have come to us to seek intervention and protection, but we need them to open cases to facilitate arrests,” he said. Some community members on Tuesday said attacks on the spaza shops were sparked by jealousy among locals who had no means of generating income.

“These owners are our mainstay. They allow us to buy on credit, they are kind and commit no crime, unlike some of the young people here,” said a woman, who asked not to be named.

She blamed nyaope smokers for the looting.

“They need to be arrested and put in jail,” another woman said.

The City of Tshwane condemned the violence and said metro police and other law enforcement agencies would try to quell tensions by escorting victims out of the places of danger.

A meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

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