We can’t stay any longer - Somalis

Cape Town - 120710 - Somali shop owners are leaving areas in the Cape Flats as they say they are being extorted for protection money from local gangs. Pictured are people scavenging in the rubble of a burnt down shop. Reporter: Daneel Knoetze PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE

Cape Town - 120710 - Somali shop owners are leaving areas in the Cape Flats as they say they are being extorted for protection money from local gangs. Pictured are people scavenging in the rubble of a burnt down shop. Reporter: Daneel Knoetze PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE

Published Jul 11, 2012

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Scores of Somali businessmen packed up and fled Valhalla Park after their shops were firebombed and looted on Tuesday.

Groups of between 60 and 100 people, some including young children, ransacked Somali businesses. Three shops were petrol-bombed, destroying them, and a policeman is in hospital after being hit on the head by a brick.

A source at Bishop Lavis police station, who asked not to be named for fear of being targeted by gangs, said The Firm – also known as the 28s gang – was behind the attacks.

“It’s about protection money. The gangs try to extort money from the shopkeepers. If a settlement cannot be reached, shops are burnt down.”

On Tuesday morning, groups of Somali men dismantled their spaza shops across Valhalla Park and adjacent Kalksteenfontein. Zinc sheets, wooden frames and stock were loaded into vans and taken away.

“We can’t stay here any longer,” said Omar Hazan, 17. He has been in SA for a year and a half and was working at a Somali shop in Valhalla Park.

“Somalia is dangerous, but today I think that it is better than being here. Here people are targeting us, some of them want us dead.”

Hazan was employed by Abdi Salaan Sheikh Muhamad, who has been in the country since 2005.

Muhamad thwarted an attempt to burn down his shop by disposing of an unexploded petrol bomb with his bare hands. The bomb had been flung through an opening in the wall through which he served customers.

“I picked it up and threw it outside. We doused the flames with water and a fire extinguisher,” Muhamad said.

He chased the attackers, but they sped off in a car without registration plates.

Hazan said: “They were shooting at me as they were fleeing.”

Muhamad did not suffer any losses or property damage, but said it was time to move. “Maybe we can set up a shop in Bellville.”

He also believes the attackers are gangsters. He says he received a phone call from a private number on Monday night demanding he pay R800 a day in protection money.

“I cannot pay this. I offered them R80 a day, but they said they would kill me and hung up.”

Four shops were looted by residents, said police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut.

Captain Marie Louw, communications officer at the Bishop Lavis police station, said: “Often such incidents can lead to a free-for-all of opportunistic crime.

“Criminal individuals in the community will see attacks on Somali businesses as an opportunity to loot the targeted and other shops.”

Some shopkeepers were robbed as they loaded stock into vans.

Police were a visible presence at most locations and the situation had been brought under control, said Louw, although at mid-afternoon children as young as six were sifting through the ruins of a shop razed by fire.

In September 2010, a mob of about 300 people marched through Valhalla Park, looting and vandalising Somali-owned spaza shops.

Most residents asked for their views said they did not condone the attacks.

“These are hard-working, good people. They have come here as entrepreneurs and they provide a good service to the community,” said Ashleen de Villiers, a resident of Kalksteenfontein.

“Tell me, where am I to find another shop where I can buy bread for R3.50, or a shopkeeper who will let me buy on credit when my money runs out at the end of the month? I had a good relationship with (the shopkeeper).”

The spazas were a necessity as supermarkets were far away, said Suleiga (surname withheld).

“Where will we shop now? Our children will have to walk very far to buy groceries,” she said. “It is dangerous. They will be mugged and have their money stolen. The girls are in danger of being raped along the way.”

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