By Francis Hweshe
The tension could be cut with a knife as Gugulethu traders and their Somali counterparts met to thrash out their differences, finally agreeing to effectively fix prices on basic goods, including bread.
It was the latest in a long line of meetings between the two sides in moves to avert the tensions spilling over into xenophobic violence reminiscent of last year’s attacks on foreign traders in the townships.
Recently things came to a head in the area when the local traders presented their Somali counterparts with a handwritten letter giving them seven days to move out of the area.
Hours later, a Somali shop owner in Gugulethu was shot dead after four men entered his shop, and demanded money, cigarettes and airtime.
One of the men fired at the shop owner, fatally wounding him in the chest.
Last night’s meeting, which continued for more than two hours, was closed to the media.
In attendance was a 10-member working committee, comprising five members from each group, formed last week after news of the letter became public.
Part of the working group’s mandate has been to iron out the sticking points between the two sides, and to forge a better working relationship.
Research by the City of Cape Town, released earlier in June, pointed to the competitive edge foreign businessmen had over their local rivals in Khayelitsha, and not xenophobia, as the reason for the violence that drove thousands of people from their homes last year.
The findings suggested a combination of lack of business skills among local traders, and that an “opportunistic criminal element” was a more dominant cause of the violence than xenophobia.
In Gugulethu, the local traders are claiming their businesses are suffering because the Somali store-owners there are charging lower prices for basic goods.
Mncedise Twalo, of the Gugulethu Anti-Eviction Campaign who has been acting as mediator between the two groups, said after last night’s meeting that it had gone well, and “we are happy with the outcome”.
Although the media were allowed in right at the end of proceedings, barely three questions were allowed before they were shooed out gain.
But Twalo said later the two sides had agreed on “price balancing” on items such as bread, milk and paraffin.
Among other things, the parties would also work closely with wholesalers and bakeries.
Both sides were committed to working together “until everything is settled”, he said, adding that they were now “speaking with one voice”.
The agreement would be implemented “as soon as possible”, according to Twalo.
Hussein Omari, Western Cape chairman of the Somali Association of South Africa, said afterwards that they did not support the price-fixing.
“There are so many loose ends here.
“The meeting is not balanced,” he said.
This article was originally published on page 4 of The Cape Argus on June 23, 2009