3 June, 2009 Anna Majavu (Source: Sowethan – print edition)
The police, political leaders, and government officials are not taking the growing wave of xenophobia seriously, and are even “colluding with local business” to make sure that xenophobic attacks against so-called foreign traders go unpunished.
That is the view of xenophobia expert, and director of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Forced Migration Studies unit, Dr Loren Landau.
Landau spoke to Sowetan after a public meeting held in Gugulethu on Sunday evening where local businesspeople threatened to remove Somali shopkeepers in the township. The meeting had been called by the Anti-Eviction Campaign, a human rights monitoring group, in a bid to counter threats against Somali shopkeepers which had been made at a series of earlier business meetings in Gugulethu.
“This is part of a pattern we have seen elsewhere, especially in the Cape. Local businesses conspire with the police and local officials or leaders so that no one is held accountable [for xenophobic attacks]”, Landau said.
Landau said the police, political leaders and government officials are more interested “in maintaining the status quo than fighting for the safety or welfare of all”.
At Sunday night’s meeting in Gugulethu, local businesspeople first lashed out at the government and the new Gugulethu Square shopping mall.
A businessman who wanted only to be indentified by his first name, Boyce, accused the government of only empowering themselves. “They did not empower us with their black economic empowerment” he said.
Grocery shop owner Michael Sonqishe said when the new mall opened later this year, his business would collapse.
“We regard the Somalis as our brothers and sisters but the problem is our government. We want government to subsidise us so that we can be less angry” Sonqishe said.
But despite identifying the government and the shopping mall as the source of their woes, the businesspeople lashed out at Gugulethu’s Somali shopkeepers.
“When people get hungry there is going to be a kind of xenophobia” said Sonqishe, while Boyce threatened “blood” against Somali traders.
A businesswoman who did not want to be identified claimed that “whites and Muslims are using our African brothers and sisters as cheap labour in shops which undercut our prices”.
And grocery shop owner Carol Malilindi said ”it is not that we don’t want them here but they are supported financially by the Muslims”.
The Anti-Eviction Campaign’s Mncedisi Twalo appealed to the businesspeople to “avoid conflict at all costs”, telling them that the community must work together to create a system where everyone could benefit.
The local businesspeople said they would be willing to fix prices for goods in the township, if all shopkeepers bought into the idea.
Western Cape premier Helen Zille’s spokesman Robert McDonald said Zille was aware of the tense situation in Gugulethu and had put the South African Police Services and Metro Police on standby to respond immediately if any xenophobic incidents broke out.
Vincent Moaga of the Human Rights Commission said the government should ensure that the expectations of South Africans are met if xenophobic attacks are to be eliminated.