Just when they thought it was safe to return to Soweto, foreign shop owners were forced to shut their shops again this week.
This comes after local traders urged Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu on Monday to regulate spaza shops to ensure the traders would not have an unfair advantage by selling expired goods cheaper.
On Wednesday, the Saturday Star returned to the areas which were looted last month to see whether the traders were back in business.
But most Somali, Pakistani and Ethiopian mini-supermarkets and tuckshops remained closed in areas such as Chiawelo, Zola and Jabulani.
In Diepkloof Zone 5, shop owners Abel and Emmanuel had restocked their store two days earlier to reopen for business but were ordered by a group to stay shut.
“At about noon I saw a group walk past my house. I ran outside to see what was happening but they walked away. When I went to check on Abel, he told me the group had (warned) him to close his store immediately,” said a woman who rented out her yard to the foreigners.
The landlord, who declined to identify herself, said she could not believe what was happening.
“They really want them out for good this time.
“But what about us? I survive on the rent money.
“They are not the only ones. The shops down the road from us have also been closed. These people are in serious trouble,” she said.
She said Abel and Emmanuel had gone to the police station to open a case of intimidation. The two had also gone into hiding.
Ironically, a stone’s throw away from the Ethiopian shop is a store run by a local business owner, Bafana Mazomba.
Mazomba said like other Soweto shopkeepers he wasn’t threatened by the return of the foreign shop owners.
“Yes now that his shop is closed business is thriving for me and I’m at an advantage. But I also believe competition is healthy, so I’m not stressed about their presence,” he said.
When they noticed the Ethiopian store was closed, school pupils in the area walked past Mazomba’s container without buying anything.
Asked why, Grade 10 pupil Patricia Komane said: “We buy crackers, snacks (crisp chips) from the Ethiopians for 50c. Bafana sells them for 70c. He is too expensive. We are going elsewhere to look for a much cheaper option,” she said.
African Diaspora Forum chairman Marc Gbaffou said the organisation was discouraging traders from returning to Soweto.
“By going back, they are risking their lives. Next week we will have a march with community members. After that we will have an idea whether it is safe to return there,” Gbaffou said.
Meanwhile, Somali shop owner Sheik Yusuf, accused of killing Siphiwe Mahori, 14, in Snake Park, appeared again in the Protea Magistrate’s Court on Friday.
He was informed that the court needed more time to verify his asylum application.
He previously pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, attempted murder and possession of an unlicensed firearm.
The case was postponed to February 12.