257 15.10.2012 Tshepo Mtubamtuba(L) and Morris Smithers(R), received dearth threats from local Nigerian shop owners as they try to close down their shops, Yeoville, Picture:Itumeleng English


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A YEOVILLE Anglican priest faces arrest the next time he complains about an illegal spaza shop in his street.

This appears to be a new tactic by offenders, taken up to counteract complaints about the hundreds of illegal businesses that have mushroomed in the suburbs of Yeoville, Bellevue and Berea, effectively making their owners untouchable.

The owner of two properties in Frances Street, both of which are being operated as illegal businesses, has slapped a restraining order on Reverend Tsepo Mtubatuba, of St Aidan’s Anglican Church, who lives next door to one of the operations and who has objected to the illegal activities.

In response to Mtubatuba’s complaints, the owner has accused the reverend of threatening to kill him and burn down the shops.

It’s an accusation Mtubatuba denies.

“The two houses are used as an illegal boutique and restaurant. They operate blatantly, right in the middle of a residential area, in between normal suburban houses. The owner has built a full-on glass-fronted shop with mannequins displaying high fashion. Next door is a ‘restaurant’ which illegally cooks food on the pavement and sells drinks.

“Most days there are cars parked all the way down the street, blocking people’s entrances.

“People loiter in the street, leaning against cars, drinking and shouting and playing loud music.

“This is affecting the quality of life of our neighbourhood and street,” Mtubatuba said.

Last month, when the crowds around the shops became intense, Mtubatuba called the police to clear them away.

Police confiscated the outdoor braais and other equipment and ordered people to move away.

“They only did this after other neighbours came to complain as well. Usually they tell me they can’t clear people because they have to check with the city’s town planning department to ascertain whether they have permits to trade.”

The illegal traders, he said, waved application forms for consent to trade – often fake – at police, who then backed off.

Days after his complaint, Mtubatuba was hit with a restraining order containing an affidavit by a Nigerian man claiming the priest had threatened to kill him and burn down his shops.

“This effectively means that if I go and complain again, I can again be falsely accused and immediately arrested and thrown into jail.

“On simply his word.

“It means I have to keep quiet and watch these transgressions happening around me,” he said.

Mtubatuba said spaza shops and illegal businesses were plaguing residential areas.

“There are at least two or three on every block. The council does nothing. If they do issue a stop order, it is ignored as the owners know the council will do nothing about it,” he said.

Mtubatuba chairs the Yeoville/ Bellevue Residents’ Association.

“We are trying to get back control of our streets,” he said.

Mtubatuba is supported by Maurice Smithers, a Yeoville community activist, who was recently threatened with death because he was trying to close down the illegal businesses.

Smithers said: “In the early 2000s we reached an agreement that certain spaza shops would be allowed under certain conditions.

“We are not against them per se, but they have to be controlled. What we are finding is that most are not simple shops selling basic necessities, which are allowed.

“Some have evolved into full-blown supermarkets, liquor outlets and shebeens, and are often used as fronts for drug dealing or selling of illegal cigarettes,” he said.