Somalis in Soweto recall days of terror
Johannesburg - Sheer terror is what some Somalis say they felt when frenzied mobs stormed their shops in Soweto last week, saying the well-stocked shelves were what saved their lives.
Deeq Abdul and fellow Somalis Adbinu Yusuf and Ahmed Abdi on Tuesday said so wild was the crowd that hit their Orlando supermarket last Monday that if they had been in the way, they would have been killed.
“We were in the shop going about our business when we became aware of the sounds of a big crowd. It was immediately followed by our doors being forced open and thousands of people just pouring in,” 26-year-old Abdul said.
Their initial shock was replaced by panic and horror.
“They burst into the shop and we knew that if they touched us we would die.”
But the mob of men and women, old and young, went for the shelves.
“They were all over the place, and as we ran for the back exit, we saw them pulling everything off the shelves,” Abdul said.
They hid in a neighbour’s house until the frenzy died down and the mob had left.
“They took everything. They took six huge fridges and a few smaller ones, they took the shelves and counters. They left the shop totally bare,” Yusuf added.
The trio fled to Pretoria, where they took refuge in the Pretoria West house of a Somali who has always opened his doors to countrymen seeking a place to stay during similar attacks on them and their property.
Masid Yussuf also fled for Pretoria West after his shop was looted of more than R70 000 worth of supplies and severely damaged by a large crowd.
He had been away from the shop when the looting took place that afternoon. He rushed back when his workers phoned to tell him what was happening.
“The sight that confronted me was the stuff of nightmares. I found thousands and thousands of people outside the shop, walking and running and standing around, all with their arms full of stuff from the shop.
“It was unbelievable. Most carried more than humanly possible and what fell on the floor was immediately retrieved even as they ran in the direction of the houses,” Yussuf said.
He had come from Port Elizabeth in 2013, two years after being shot at four times and hit twice during an ambush at his shop.
“I was in hospital for four months for treatment on my leg and hip,” he said.
He had never fully recovered from the attack, so when he was confronted by the sight of armed youth and looters, he was overcome by anxiety and rushed for the safety of a group of police officers who were at the scene.
The shop was wrecked.
The attack had been so violent that the open doors had been pulled off their hinges, windows were smashed and parts of the walls brought down with hammers.
The Somalis said they would return to their communities when the chaos died down, because of the good relationships they had built with their customers.
“Ignorance is what is killing our people,” said the chairman of the Gauteng Somali Association of South Africa, Abdirahman Ismail.
The fact that people were not well informed about the plight of fellow Africans and did not understand the circumstances under which they lived in South Africa instead of being at home was the root of the problem, he said.
“Criminal activities are commonplace, and because foreigners are vulnerable, they easily become targets,” he said.
Ismail said that if they left, South Africans would attack other South Africans in the vicious cycle of crime.