RIGHTS-SOUTH AFRICA: Xenophobia Still Smouldering

19 06 2009

By Mandisi MajavuIPS News

CAPE TOWN, Jun 19 (IPS) – “My worry is that my children are going to be slaves because they won’t have anything. These foreign people come to South Africa with nothing, but tomorrow he has cash, third day he owns a shop and fourth day he has a car. Where do these foreign people get this money?”

Small business owners are venting their frustrations on ‘foreign nationals’ – among them many Somalis – who own shops in the country’s townships, causing experts to warn that xenophobic violence could increase.
Businesspeople from four of Cape Town’s impoverished communities – Delft, Masiphumelele, Samora Machel and Gugulethu – held several meetings in late May and early June to discuss ways of ridding their communities of foreign-owned shops.

The meetings echo those held a year ago in the Gauteng townships of Atteridgville and Alexandra, shortly before over 150,000 foreign nationals were displaced by a wave of xenophobic violence that swept the country, killing 62 people with thousands more beaten or raped.

On Jun. 14 this year, an unidentified man delivered letters to all ‘Somali’ shops in Gugulethu, giving the shopkeepers until Jun. 20 to leave the area.

The handwritten, photocopied letters purported to come from the Gugulethu Business Forum, and even though some members distanced themselves from the letters, others accused Somali shopkeepers of having a deliberate agenda to ‘kill off’ local business.

“Somalians want to be the cheapest business people in town. If they see that am also pricing my goods like them they are going to find ways to undercut me,” said one woman shopkeeper who declined to be named for this story.

Fear and loathing in the Western CapeForeign nationals who own shops are not the only ones at risk. John Kwigwasa arrived in South Africa from the DRC eight years ago. He has legal refugee status and doesn’t own a shop but says he has been attacked over seven times since 2002 – most recently when he was shot in the hip in Gugulethu at the end of May.

Since last May, Kwigwasa has lived at the Blue Waters displaced peoples camp, which city authorities want to shut down. Aware that the camp will not be open forever, Kwigwasa has been looking around for alternative accommodation for his family.

He told IPS “the city is forcing us to reintegrate so I decided to get a job and look for a place in Gugulethu. I was with my friend, Rajab Ramazani, when a group of local guys told us ‘why don’t you go to your country, you are taking our jobs and driving nice cars’. Then one of them shot me in the hip”.

“They drove away with Rajab and kept in the boot of the car all night. They took him to a railway track early the next morning. While they were deciding to kill him or not, he ran away and they shot him in the leg” said Kwigwasa.

Kwigwasa and Rajab are recovering from their injuries as best they can in the cold, windswept Blue Waters camp.

“At the end of the day there is going to be a lot of trouble in my township. If I had money I would have left long time ago because there is no peace here. And those boys from Somalia have come and created more troubles,” said another, who identified himself only as ‘Boyce’.

Add the plans to remove ‘Somali shopkeepers’ to the steady number of attacks and murders of ‘foreign nationals’ and the mix becomes deadly, says Loren Landau, director of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Forced Migration Studies unit.

“Violence against foreigners is rapidly becoming fully integrated into the standard politics of some townships,” says Landau.

In May 2008, over 150,000 foreign nationals were displaced by a wave of xenophobic violence that swept the country, with thousands being murdered or raped.

But since the “officially recognised” outbreak of xenophobia ended last June, police have not kept official statistics of xenophobia-related murders, claiming instead that any deaths of foreign nationals are the result of South Africa’s generally high crime rate.

This itself has fuelled xenophobia, says the Somali Association of South Africa.

“There is a culture of impunity developing. When Somali traders are murdered the police don’t act on it. There is a perception that if people kill or do whatever to Somalis, nothing will happen to them,” says the Somali Association of South Africa’s Western Cape co-ordinator Hussein Omar.

Omar’s fears appear to be borne out by recent events – in the last fortnight, two young Somali shop assistants were burnt to death, one Zimbabwean and one national of Bangladesh murdered, three shop assistants injured with gunshot wounds in Delft, and another ‘Somali shop’ in the Cape Town suburb Khayelitsha set alight.

Omar is investigating the deaths of the Somali shop assistants – Omar Josef and Hazim Amad, who died when their shop – where they sleep – was set ablaze at two a.m.

The local police told IPS they have already ruled out xenophobia even though the investigation is still under way. Somali residents in the community say the shop was doused with petrol before being set alight but the investigator, Detective Constable Eldoret van der Merwe, would only say “at this stage we can’t say how the fire started”.

In Gugulethu, a local activist group – the Gugulethu Anti-Eviction Campaign – tried for three weeks to convince the Gugulethu Business Forum not to vent their anger on Somali shopkeepers, but instead to ask government why it was not doing more to support small business.

But the Gugulethu Anti-Eviction Campaign’s Mncedisi Twalo says after the businesspeople delivered the threatening letters to ‘Somali’ shops, he was forced to ask the police for a guarantee that they would protect the Somali shopkeepers.

The police have since arranged meetings between local businesspeople and the Somali shopkeepers, which they have closed to the media.

Omar fears that the actions of small groups of local businesspeople could become a catalyst for other people to vent their frustrations on ‘foreign nationals’.

And Landau says that as people come to accept that it is legitimate to plot against “foreign” business people, “the violence will only spread”.




One response

2 07 2009

This is stupid, inflicting crime against these foreigners. It must be said, the worst crimes go unnoticed. Many South African’s think they superior to the next, but be warned, because everyone has assumed they know what extent can happen even assuming outragious assumptions like they never can go missing.

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