Media: New threat to foreigners

15 06 2009

By Caryn Dolley
15 June 2009, 06:52
Source: Cape Times

Gugulethu traders have delivered warning letters to Somali shopkeepers telling them they have seven days to leave the area.Identical acts of intimidation preceded last year’s outbreak of xenophobic violence, and foreign traders living and working in informal settlements fear they may again be violently ejected from their homes.

An urgent meeting between Gugulethu police and foreign and local business owners has been set up for Monday to try to quell the tensions and avert another outbreak of violence.

A study released a few days ago by the City of Cape Town found there were tensions between local and foreign spaza shop traders in Khayelitsha because foreigners were professionally “more efficient” and that this upset local traders, who felt business was being snatched from them.

The tensions in Khayelitsha in October were also sparked by warning letters sent by local traders to foreigners.

The recent letters come as the City of Cape Town is offering programmes to develop local and foreign traders’ skills.

On Sunday, Mncedisi Twalo, spokesperson for the Anti-Eviction Campaign, which has joined forces with local and foreign traders to try to ease tensions between the two groups, said “business rivalry” was again causing problems.

He said despite a number of meetings aimed at getting locals and foreigners in Gugulethu to work together, Somali traders in the area had received letters on Saturday from local business owners “telling them they have seven days to vacate the area”.

Twalo said a group of Somalis who felt threatened had gone immediately to the Gugulethu police station.

Elliot Sinyangana, the station’s spokesperson, said officers had received “a surprise visit” from the Somalis.

“The letter (they showed) us was very informal,” he said.

“In it locals said they wanted the Somalis out of the area in seven days. There was no name on it, there was no letter head and it didn’t say who it was from.

“It’s the same old story. According to (the locals) the Somalis are taking over business in the area.”

Sinyangana did not know how many warning letters had been distributed. Although the Somalis had not lodged a formal complaint, he said police were investigating.

He said residents had seen someone in a white bakkie dropping off the letters and some of the Somali shopkeepers had managed to take down its registration number.

“We traced the (number plate) to a bakkie, but this was outside a business nothing like that run by the Somali or local traders.”

Sinyangana said after investigations it appeared a duplicate number plate had been used on the bakkie that delivered the letters.

Police had therefore not yet been able to trace the distributor, but Sinyangana said officers had spoken to local traders and warned them that if they distributed such letters it would be viewed as intimidation and they would face legal action.

He said an urgent meeting between police, local and foreign traders had been set up for today.

“We want to kill this problem and see that everyone is bound by a decision by the end of the meeting,” he said.

The Somali Association of South Africa’s deputy chairman, Abdi Adan, said he had heard about the letters.

“We got some papers telling us to leave our shacks in seven days. (The shopkeepers) do feel threatened. This is not the first time this is happening. We’ve had similar kinds of intimidation. It’s hectic.

“The main problem coming from the local business owners is jealousy.”

A recently released study, commissioned by the city in October and carried out by Knowledge Link Services, focused on the tensions that surged between local and foreign spaza shop traders in Khayelitsha last year.

The city’s executive director for economic, social development and tourism, Mansoor Mohamed, said it was found that “the root cause of trader tension was mainly the lack of entrepreneurial ability among local shopowners and not necessarily xenophobia”.

Mohamed said the city was running a number of programmes “to improve the skills of emerging entrepreneurs”.

He said that, in three years, the city had funded 194 local students to attend a six-month entrepreneurship development programme run by the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

The city would invite local and foreign traders to participate in the programme, Mohamed said.

He was not available on Sunday to provide further details about the programme, such as how many traders it could accommodate.

Twalo said he had not yet heard about the programme, but he believed local traders would favour it.

But Adan said it seemed like “just another plan” that in a few months would be forgotten.

Xenophobic violence hit the city in May last year and about 20 000 foreigners fled informal settlements. In the months leading up to the violence, warning letters telling foreigners to leave were distributed in the informal settlements.

# caryn.dolley@inl.co.za

* This article was originally published on page 1 of The Cape Times on June 15, 2009

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