File picture - Residents of Bronville in the Free State have welcomed Bangladeshi shop owners to their area. Photo: Refilwe Modise.

The ANC is proposing a crackdown on foreign-owned spaza shops in response to anger among local small businesses about unwelcome competition.

Non-South Africans should not run spaza shops without adhering to “certain legislated prescripts”, which may or may not be different to those applying to South Africans, according to the ANC’s peace and stability policy discussion document.

“Non-South Africans should not be allowed to buy or run spaza shops or larger businesses without having to comply with certain legislated prescripts. By-laws need to be strengthened in this regard…

“Should by-laws apply equally to both asylum seekers and citizens?” asks the ANC policy document.

It argues that the renting of houses by asylum seekers from South Africans for informal trading may contravene by-laws. Calling for a strengthening and proper enforcement of municipal by-laws, it says “ideally municipalities should know who lives and works and runs businesses in their area as well as their status”.

The discussion point around home affairs and its role in national security comes in the wake of attacks on spaza shops run by predominantly Somali or Pakistani traders in townships. SA businesses have distributed pamphlets demanding foreigners close shop or be chased out. Following xenophobic attacks in 2008 which left 62 dead, research in the Cape Town township of Masiphumelele found business rivalry to be a key factor.

While it is not clear how many have died in attacks on spaza shops, the SA Police Service has maintained these were crimes, not xenophobia.

In contrast, the ANC government 10 years ago dropped a ban on foreign ownership in the private security industry. Pressure from the UK, which had signed a trade protection agreement with SA in 1994, was key to a compromise that ministerial exemptions should be obtained for foreigners’ participation in the industry.

At the time, it was estimated that four companies with links to the UK had invested around R3 billion in the SA private security industry.

In the peace and security ANC policy discussion document, home affairs is identified as “the backbone of security, service delivery and the developmental state”.

The discussion document argues that because many asylum seekers have taken advantage of SA’s non-encampment policy – asylum seekers are not housed in camps – it is now time for a risk-based approach and to take “robust steps” against those who end up in SA after having crossed through other safe countries, where they could have remained. - Marianne Merten