Cape Town - More than a month after xenophobic violence ravaged Grahamstown, foreigners who ran businesses on the town’s outskirts remain fearful of returning.
More than 300 businesses were shut, with most of them looted on October 21, as mobs of mostly youths marched through Grahamstown’s outskirts, in particular Joza township, blaming foreign shopkeepers for four recent deaths in their community.
But despite police saying the deaths were perfectly plausible, and no foreigners were involved, some Joza residents have continued blaming foreigners for rising crime in the township.
On Monday Bangladeshi shopkeeper Shumon Mohammod, who lost the contents of his shop during the looting, blamed the Makana municipality for his continued hardship.
“The municipality has made empty promises to us. They said it’s okay for us to go back… when we got to Joza there was a problem with the community,” said Mohammod.
More than 100 men are still at the Stone Crescent Hotel outside Grahamstown where they have been staying since being displaced by the violence.
Another Bangladeshi shopkeeper, Mohamed Masum, said he had wanted to open his business in recent weeks despite the losses he had suffered.
“On October 21, I lost everything. If I can get a loan, I will take it to open my shop,” said Masum.
He complained that despite promises from the municipality, there was not enough food for the men who remained at the hotel, and NGOs had not delivered on promises to feed them.
Ayanda Kota, an activist who has been working with the refugees since the outbreak of violence, said a lot of work was required in the local community before foreigners could be moved back in.
“The way the reintegration happened was a mistake, it was not done properly and officials have been complacent in assessing the scale of the problem,” said Kota.
Makana municipality spokesperson Yoliswa Ramoloko said it simply did not have money to help displaced foreigners. “The municipality is under administration and we do not have the finances.
“That’s why we’ve asked for assistance,” said Ramoloko.
She said foreign shop owners had asked the Makana municipality for R10 000 each as “start-up capital” to help them re-establish their businesses, which had been destroyed in the looting.
The municipality, beset by financial scandals, had paid for the foreigners’ accommodation at the hotel.
SA Human Rights Commission spokesperson Isaac Mangena said it had held a dialogue at the weekend in Grahamstown, focusing on the need for closer ties between those working to help return and reintegrate foreigners into the community.@mtyala
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