Somali businesses close after looting
Pretoria - Somali shopkeepers in Winterveld kept their doors closed on Wednesday following a night of looting and attacks.
Police, community members and a ward councillor expressed shock about the events, saying the Somalis were unfortunate to have fallen prey to a group of disgruntled residents.
A leader of the Foreign National Association in Pretoria said the attacks had been politically motivated.
This follows an attack two weeks ago on foreign shopkeepers in Hammanskraal by residents giving vent to their anger about poor service delivery.
On Tuesday evening, a group of about 200 people ransacked a number of tuck shops in the Winterveld area after metro police demolished shacks they had erected despite stern warnings by the ward councillor.
Lenda Kwenda, councillor for Ward 19, said the shacks had sprung up last week on a stretch of land on which RDP houses were soon to be built.
“We had a community meeting and the residents were informed that the land is going to be developed soon. Community members will be employed on this project. It was agreed that no shacks should go up on the land. It was clearly understood by everyone. Everyone was happy about the agreement.”
According to Kwenda, shacks were being erected on the land. Another warning was issued to the squatters about their illegal occupation and they were told in no uncertain terms that the shacks would be demolished.
“On Tuesday, the shacks were taken down and the occupants revolted. They waited for police to disperse and then attacked the foreigners’ shops. I don’t know why, because they (the foreigners) had nothing to do with the issue,” Kwenda said.
On Wednesday, the Pretoria News visited the area and found the situation hostile and tense, with community members wary of talking.
Four of five spaza shops visited were closed, with doors and windows boarded up, and broken glass glinting from behind the cardboard.
An Ethiopian shopowner, John Anvio, said he feared for his life and ran away as soon as he saw the looters approaching.
“They were coming towards us with knives. They broke the burglar bars and came in through the side door and just took what they wanted. I didn’t stay around to wait for them to attack me, I just ran.”
Charlotte Menyuko lets part of her property to three Somalis who run a tuck shop.
She said she was disgusted by the action of the community members.
“The mob came here and started breaking the windows. They also wanted to break my shack down.
“They threw a petrol bomb inside the shop. Young children ran inside and started filling their arms with groceries. Their parents stood there on the corner and watched.
“All my neighbours came out and looked, but no one did anything, knowing very well these people (the Somalis) had done nothing wrong. The Somalis managed to escape through a back door and ran away,” a distraught Menyuko said.
Police confirmed the incident and said the Somalis were unfortunate victims.
“No one knows why they decided to vent their anger on the foreigners. We all know the issue was not about them,” police spokesman Warrant Officer Llifi Ramatlo said.
“Police went there to assist and calm the situation.”
Meanwhile, Shuriye Ibrahim, a leader of the Foreign Nationals Association in Pretoria, has expressed disgust at the government, calling it the worst in the world following the attacks.
Ibrahim said that foreigners were being targeted and killed across the country, while the government turned a blind eye.
“This government is useless. The situation is serious, but what are they doing.
“This is the only African country I know of that turns their backs on their brothers from the same African soil.
“We came here seeking help and a better life from our respective countries, but with the current situation it is better for us to go back.”
Ibrahim suggested that the government should hand over the foreigners to the UN, which he said should accommodate them in safer countries.
“People are dying here, that is not why we came here,” Ibrahim said.
“Nowhere on the African continent are you called amakwerekwere and mlungu, but it is only in South Africa that one African brother is oppressed by another.”
Police said they would monitor the situation.