'Boko Haram’ terror gang or Robin Hood?
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Pretoria - The Community First Foundation ‒ better known as “Boko Haram” ‒ claims to be working to help keep all foreign-owned shops in Mamelodi safe from criminals, and to help connect them to their community as opposed to extorting money from them.
The foundation, which claims to be what is being referred to as the terror-gang “Boko Haram”, said what was being reported about their dealings with businesses in the area could not be further from the truth.
They are accused of running a large-scale extortion ring in Mamelodi, where money has been extorted from foreign tuck-shop owners, salon owners, hostels and other businesses since 2018.
The group has allegedly been collecting money, including "protection fees", from foreign nationals who own tuck shops in the township.
Secretary-general for the group, Mishack Mtsweni, said they were aware that they were being referred to as Boko Haram and were unsettled by the allegations of them running an extortion ring.
Mtsweni said if anything they were the ones who had been approached by a few foreign-owned businesses to help them as they were battling to make inroads with the community.
He said the shop owners complained to them that fights often broke out in their shops; they reported thefts by criminals; and worst of all, they were being used as scapegoats during community service delivery protests.
“We saw that foreign-owned shops were struggling because even petty criminals were targeting them. They told us that they weren’t getting any real help from the police.
“So because we know most of the people in this community, we have been helping them, and whatever they give us is a form of gratitude ... not to say we are demanding money from them.”
And even though police have arrested a woman and a man, aged 37, who are due to reappear in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Thursday and are believed to be members of gang, Mtsweni claimed they were not a part of that fold.
The man and woman are facing charges of theft, trespassing and fraud.
“We don’t know who those people are, but we’ve been working with shop owners, with an agreement all parties decided upon, not to say they have to give us money.”
Gul Zaman, owner of the 5 Star supermarket in Mamelodi East, agreed that they were being supported and working with the Boko Haram group and were not being forced to pay them protection fees.
“They came to offer us their help because every time we go to the police we don’t see any progress or help from them.
“Before they approached us we struggled, and were always the target when they had riots and protests. But due to the working relationship we have with them we have yet to be attacked or victimised again.”
Ali Muhammed, owner of the Abdul Supermarket in Mamelodi east, said since they began working with the group they were able to help poor families in their communities and support funerals and other community efforts.
“This is a friendship and a partnership, as they are helping us to better understand our community and what they need, like credit or which families are really struggling so we can give our excess stock to them during trying times, as being originally from Somalia means communication here has proved challenging.”
Despite these revelations, police are currently investigating several cases opened by victims of the so-called “Boko Haram” and even alluded to more arrests to be expected.
Gauteng police commissioner Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela even appealed to those with information to come forward to assist the multi-disciplinary team which has been set up to deal with gangs in the area.