Rustenburg - Calm appeared to have been restored in Rustenburg on Thursday as police patrolled the area where unrest broke out on Wednesday. Six buildings were torched, but foreign nationals feared more violence might break out last night and today.
While it was business as usual for businesses which were not looted and torched, foreign nationals remained tense after many had lost their livelihoods when their businesses were set alight.
A high police presence remained on the streets, with officers patrolling the central business district where buildings had been destroyed. They also kept a close eye on the taxi rank.
However, there were still threats that inkabi (hitmen) from Eastern Cape and Joburg were possibly on their way to Rustenburg to assist taxi drivers with cleaning up the area from drug dealers.
This comes after Rustenburg came to a standstill on Wednesday afternoon when an angry mob set buildings alight which they believed were drug dens and brothels.
Speaking to the Pretoria News, members of the community said the unrest started after taxi operators decided they had had enough of nyaope users stealing their car radios and wheel caps just to get a fix.
They said operators started to target nyaope users and forced them to point out their drug dealers which were said to be foreign nationals. It was then that raids on businesses owned by foreign nationals began.
Aubrey Malinga, taxi owner and committee members at Boitekong Taxi Association, said issues of theft and taxi operators being robbed and attacked were not new. However, he blamed the attacks on a local group of gangsters known as the SVK. He said the group targeted taxi operators and robbed them of their money and anything valuable.
Owing to the attacks, two taxi operators had died and a taxi owner was admitted to hospital and was fighting for his life.
He said one of the operators from Sondela, Lebogang Motlhabane, 32, disappeared on December 15 and was found barely alive 12 days later in the bush. He died later in hospital. He will be buried tomorrow.
Malinga said the other operator was attacked and murdered last November.
“Taxi owner Lucky Maulane, 44, is in hospital after he was attacked on Saturday,” Malinga said.
Maulana’s son, Oscar, said his father’s attackers used stones to hit him and he was mostly hurt on the head and jaw. “My father is badly hurt, and at the moment he cannot walk. All his teeth have been taken out because his jaw is messed up,” he said.
Oscar, 18, said his father was getting better.
He was now able to walk a bit.
Even so, Malinga said one of the the reasons behind the unrest was that a 17-year-old girl had told taxi operators she had been raped by man named “Rasta”.
It was because of the girl’s claims that operators made their way to a house in Noord where the man was found.
Malinga said they seized four people with drugs in their possession. Among them was a police officer and two foreign nationals.
“When we found them, we put them in an enclosed area where we normally put boxes at the taxi rank.
“The police came and we left matters in their hands. Minutes later, the K9 police division came to the rank and asked what was happening. While in talks with them, members of the SAPS Public Order Policing started using teargas on us,” he said.
Malinga said: “All hell broke loose when the community saw that the drug dealers who were supposed to be in jail were in fact walking free on the streets.
“It was after that discovery that community members got angry and went to buildings they knew operated as brothels and were believed to be drug dens,” he said.
The unrest started at around 5pm on Wednesday and employees working at nearby businesses said they saw a group of angry people making their way to various buildings in the CBD.
Minutes later they heard windows breaking and then flames and clouds of smoke filled the sky.
However, some foreign nationals whose businesses were burnt were adamant their workplaces were not run by druglords
Among the buildings burnt was a tyre shop owned by a man from Uganda.
An employee at the shop, Nandos Makanza, said the community burnt the wrong business. “I understand their concerns but we only deal with tyres here, nothing else. I don’t know where I’m going to get money to feed my family now that the business which had put food on the table has been torched,” he said. Buildings torched were mostly guesthouses owned by foreign nationals.
Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said six buildings had been torched, but no arrests had been made yet.
Rustenburg executive mayor Mpho Khunou said they were going to close all the brothels in Rustenburg. “We closed a number of brothels in Rustenburg east in November and we have planned to intensify the work focusing on the east and north and the central business district, particularly at the taxi rank.”
Khunou vowed that from next week, they will be closing all brothels. “One of the things that these drug traffickers do is that when you focus on the one area they move to another area. We will be intensifying our intelligence so that there is no part of Rustenburg where they can hide,” he said.
Khunou met with taxi association committees to find ways of working together with the municipality and the SAPS to find solutions to the problems. Mayoral spokesperson Andrew Seome said the committee agreed to work together with the municipality and members of the police to fight all the social ills in their communities.
He said they were committed to doing so peacefully, without breaking any laws.
The Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, condemned the people who took the law into their own hands and made threats that they would continue with the violence
“No matter how justified people might think they are, taking the law into their own hands does not make them different to the people they accuse of being criminals. People must know we are a democratic state, with competent institutions that can resolve all concerns,” Mbalula said.
He urged the police to root out acts of criminality in communities, in particular brothels where the future of young women was destroyed. He instructed police to bring order in the area and work with the people to fight crime.