GLYNIS UNDERHILL – Mail & Guardian
Jul 26 2009 06:00
Cape Town mayor Dan Plato says the city is on “high alert” to prevent a flare-up of xenophobic violence after seven Somali shops in Samora Machel and Gugulethu townships this week were forced by local business operators to close.
“We are aware of the problems and we are working closely with the South African Police Service and engaging community leadership,” said Plato. “We need to work and live together in peace and harmony.”
Although some of the shops have since reopened, tensions are rising over the lower prices offered by foreign-owned shops and their proliferation close to locally owned businesses.
Plato said local residents were complaining that the containers used for their spaza shops were being stolen, which had happened in his ward in Uitsig. “Incidents like this can spark off violence quite easily,” he said, “and we need to negotiate with people and call for restraint.”
The government should regulate the opening of shops and assist in controlling and mediating the situation, said Abdi Ahmed Aden, deputy chairperson of the Somali Association of South Africa in the Western Cape. “We think people act with criminal intent and this is what is happening in the townships when they forcibly close down shops.”
As a result of negotiations with locals, an agreement was reached that Somali business owners would check first with the association before opening up anywhere, he said, but this did not always happen, as some would-be shop owners had no work papers and needed to earn a living.
A police intelligence operative told the Mail & Guardian that residents resisted the move to shut down the Somali shops in Gugulethu as they could not afford the higher prices at the local shops.
“The government needs to ensure they bring down the price of essential goods so the local business people can bring down their prices,” he said. “Foreigners are managing to offer lower prices because they seem to be able to buy in bulk. It is causing extreme tension in Gugulethu.”
He said that Somali business people were buying up local businesses at “give-away” prices as people battled the economic downturn.
During mediation attempts with traders in Gugulethu earlier this month, Somali shopkeepers were told to move their shops 100m away from their local competitors.
The Anti-Eviction Campaign’s coordinator, Mncedisi Twalo, said township business owners and traders were willingly participating in mediation efforts, but he said the organisation was running low on funding to keep up the much-needed mediation.
Twalo said a meeting he had held this week with local township business operators revealed how emotional they were about the foreign competition threatening their livelihood.
But it is the government that is destroying the livelihood of informal traders and small businesses by allowing the invasion of large corporations and shopping malls, said Twalo.