Immigrant shop owners targeted in a looting spree on Tuesday 24 April have made a plea for fellow residents to unite against thugs, pointing out that their actions hurt not only shopkeepers but also the communities the shops serve. And a community organisation has called for authorities to inform stakeholders better ahead of marches and protests.
“We cannot be defeated by a handful of tsotsis. This is a five-tsotsi zone: there are a few of them and hundreds of us!” shop owner Muhammad ‘Roni’ Masum said as those affected met the next day to plan how to return to their communities and their shops.
Describing the instigators of the looting as a handful of professional criminals, Masum said, “They come and go and there are not lots of them: the community is stronger. The residents should stand side by side with us and stop them.”
Police this week continued to monitor areas in Grahamstown where groups targeted immigrant owned spaza shops on Tuesday 24 April, looting 14 of them.
According to an unconfirmed report, a shop owner suffered minor injuries when he panicked in his haste to escape a mob and drove his vehicle into a wall. No other reports of injuries were received. Meanwhile, the organisers of a legal demonstration by taxi associations and civic organisations have expressed shock at the events that began while leaders addressed participants in an officially approved demonstration outside the city hall on Tuesday morning.
The looting overshadowed the protest by the Makana Civic Movement, who handed in a petition against the poor state of residential and CBD infrastructure. Their grievances included bad roads, refuse dumping, the unavailability of water in some areas, blocked drainage systems, unfinished community projects, debilitated sports facilities, dirty and blocked toilet ablutions at the taxi rank and no response to their correspondence concerning the bad situation.
They were accompanied in their march by around 60 vehicles and their drivers from three taxi associations operating in Grahamstown.
The petition was received by Council Speaker Yandiswa Vara, accompanied by acting municipal manager Ted Pillay and Corporate Services Director Nomthandazo Mazwai. The protesters gave them 21 days to respond.
Protest co-organiser Phumzile Adam distanced the event at the City Hall from the looting being carried out mostly in Extension 7 and Extension 6.
“We state it categorically that we distance ourselves from those criminal acts,” Adam told Grocott’s Mail. “The march we were leading was so peaceful and well controlled. The residents were well behaved. No incidents of criminality were reported along the route of the march.”
Police spokesperson Captain Mali Govender said incidents of looting of immigrant owned spaza shops in Joza started Tuesday 24 April from about 11.30am with large groups of community members targeting shops across the station area.
“Incidents intensified when schools closed at about 12.30pm and school children joined in,” Govender said.
Grocott’s Mail witnessed police assisting owners to remove goods from their shops. Govender said, “SAPS assisted to remove goods from 28 spaza shops of which 14 can be confirmed as being looted.”
By 4pm Tuesday the situation had stabilised. No arrests were effected or dockets opened by Wednesday morning.
“The situation will be monitored until normalised,” Govender said. “All Commanders and members will continue with high visibility patrols until the situation has completely normalised.”
On Wednesday most spaza shops remained closed and shop owners met at lunchtime to discuss a strategy for them to safely return to their communities. By Thursday 26 April, three days later, some owners were starting to return stock to their shops and return to their communities.
Grocott’s Mail spoke to distressed shop owners on Tuesday.
‘We have done nothing wrong’
Many had been through the xenophobic looting in Grahamstown in October 2015. Some said they had lost everything then and had just managed to get back on their feet when Tuesday’s looting happened.
“We don’t know why this has happened,” was the response of most. “We have done nothing wrong.”
Samuel Tegese’s shop opposite Umthathi Training Centre was looted while he was moving stock out of his other outlet. ‘They stole everything,’ said Tegese, who was also affected by the October 2015 xenophobic looting.
“Last of last year we lost everything,” he said. “Now we lose everything again. It’s the second time.
“If people have a problem they must speak to the government, not take it out on us,” he said. Because they happened on the same day, Tegese associated the looting with the service delivery protest outside the city hall. Organisers of the protest have condemned the looting and strongly dissociated themselves from it.
The South African Foreign Integration Committee (SAFIC) – has called for authorities to inform stakeholders better about planned marches and protests.
Chairperson Mbulelo Lipile said when they became aware of the march, the day before, they shared the message that shopowners must be vigilant and limit their stock. “Since 4am on Monday we were driving around picking up shop owners stock and taking it to town. Next day we waited and around 1pm I got a call from the CPF to say looting had started in Extension 9.”
While he was talking to a police officer, calls were coming in about shops being looted in Vukani and Extension 7.
Lipile said when he got a report of looting in Victoria Street, he went there and spoke to residents and they had chased away the would-be looters.
“We are very disappointed,” Lipile said. “Any time there’s going to be a march in Grahamstown I think all stakeholders need to be informed, so we can talk with our networks to make them aware. We need to come together to plan in case there may be trouble.
Grahamstown Community Policing Forum Chairperson Glenda Duffy supported the call for communities to unite against crime and urged them to join the forum.
Reactions on social media
“That’s totally wrong thing of attacking Somalian shops they don’t enter in the taxi drivers strike now we as community we need to protect the Somalian shops because they helping us as a community people … phantsi ngodlame phantsi!” – Siviwe Mandevu
“Whoever will be found with stolen goods should be arrested, this is not right guys…. look at the damages. how is he going to carry on ngok.” – Ncum Speelman
“Its not right they are people just like us trying to make a living and they gave jobs to many that’s unemployed why destroy their shop and they’re hungry lions that done that we have all the same blood… why destroy that doesn’t belong to u go work and own ur salaries. God is not asleep you’ll answer one day.” – Maureen Geswend
“It is disgusting how can they do this” – Vathiswa Mize
“Oooh Hai kodwa how can dey do such things” – Bongie Ntonto
“This is sad 😠😠😠” – Unathi Ngangani
“Some people are so stupid,coz they’re biting the hand that feeds them…#aysuka!!!” – Reginald Ngcangca