Cape Town - Claims that foreign-born shopowners were responsible for a spate of killings in Grahamstown have lit a xenophobic fuse in the town, forcing people to flee their homes as shops are looted.
In an effort to calm the situation, the Makana municipality has set up a meeting with local clergy to enlist their help.
The South African wives of foreign-born nationals, who have gone into hiding, on Tuesday appealed to the government to intervene to quell the violence, which has seen the lives of their families disrupted, with at least 300 people having been displaced.
Jamila Raaes, a South African who is married to a Pakistani-born shopkeeper, said her family had been split up as her husband, along with other foreign-born businessmen, had gone into hiding.
Raaes said all foreign-owned shops in the town centre, as well as the nearby township of Joza, had shut their doors last week, but this had not deterred looters.
“The people are removing the roofs from our stores to gain entry,” said Raaes.
The outbreak of xenophobia had been preceded by years of abuse from locals, with South African wives of the foreign-born shopkeepers ridiculed for choosing to wear modest clothes, as required by Islam.
Police spokesperson Mali Govender said a special court had been set up to deal with the xenophobic violence, with 97 suspects having appeared.
“Two females and six males were released on a warning. The parents of 10 juveniles were also warned to bring them to court next Monday. All other suspects will remain in custody until their next appearance on Friday,” he said.
She said police were not investigating a serial killer. In total, police have discovered four bodies which were found in mysterious circumstances, but due to the fact that these bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition, their cause of death could not be accurately determined.
Amidst the national #FeesMustFall protests, the violence started on Wednesday when taxi drivers and owners marched on the municipality’s offices to protest against the state of the town’s roads.
But this march soon turned into one in which taxi owners and drivers vented their anger at the continued presence of foreign-born shopkeepers in the town.
Barbara-Anne Ali, whose husband is Pakistani, said after the taxi drivers had marched, some drivers went on a looting spree.
“They wrote on their taxis that foreigners must go, ‘bye, bye amakwara’,” said Ali. Because of the abuse she and her husband had decided to send their two oldest boys to live with family in Pakistan.
Municipality spokesperson Yoliswa Ramokolo said 300 people had been displaced.
“We’ve been having stakeholder meetings for the last week, every day.”
Foreign-born shopowners include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nigerians, Somalians, Palestinians, Senegalese and Zimbabweans.
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