Some spaza shops are not small businesses, some are corrupt, oppressive, and promote crime

2 08 2009

Newfields Village Anti-Eviction Campaign Press Release
Sunday, 2 August, 2009 – For immediate release

A few days ago, a well-off businessman named Abdul attempted to stab a member of the Newfields Village Anti-Eviction Campaign Community Representative Committee (CRC) when we went with other committee members to deliver a memorandum of understanding about Abdul’s corrupt and condemnable business practices in the Newfields Village community.

This is a sensitive issue, not because the community’s actions are in any way wrong or that Abdul’s practices are in any way acceptable, but because Abdul, a businessman who owns a large number of spaza shops in the Hanover Park area, also happens to be a Somalian. So we ask in advance that all journalists who would like to report on this issue, take care not to misrepresent the Newfields Village community.

Background:

Newfields Village, one of the public housing schemes controlled by the corrupt Cape Town Community Housing Company, is a tight-knit but poor community. Crime is relatively low in the area because, when residents moved in to the houses, they vowed to prevent any drug-lords, shebeens and gangs from entering the community. They have been able to do so because would-be crime bosses know the community is organised and know that they are not welcome. The Newfields Village community has vowed that if any unsavory or exploitative business enters the community (whether a drug house, a shebeen or a corrupt spaza shop), they will close it down.In this specific case, a businessman from Hanover Park only known to the community as “Abdul” has opened multiple illegal spaza shops inside Newfields Village. In other Hanover Park communities, Abdul pays a couple thousand Rand per month to rent out someone’s front yard and then employs a poor Somalian inside to manage and live in the shop. The working conditions for these poor Somalian workers (who get paid very meager wages) are atrocious and the work is also extremely lonely.

Meanwhile, Abdul is able to pay off the huge rents by using it as a front for other illicit business activities including dealing drugs to local youth.

The community’s stance:

We request that anyone wishing to do business, work in, or support the community of Newfields Village, should first contact the community through the democratic structures already in place (the CRC). The Newfields Village community would like to make clear to all that it welcomes any poor worker or trader (foreign or not) into its community as long as he or she respects the wishes and needs of the community. As poor people ourselves, we are in solidarity with all poor and vulnerable people everywhere.

However, Abdul is not a poor or vulnerable Somalian. He is a wealthy businessman who exploits poor Somalians and poor residents of our community. Therefore, the CRC acting on the mandate of our community has requested in this memorandum of understanding that any spaza shop be opened with community participation and be under community oversight so that the shop works in the interest of the community. It also requests that Abdul and any other businessman cease from all corrupt practices.

This memorandum was signed by the CRC and by Somalian representatives including Abdul. However, when the CRC attempted to serve the memorandum, Abdul refused to accept it and attempted to stab one of the members. This was all done in the presence of the police who residents know are on the payroll of local drug-lords connected to Abdul. The police there did nothing to protect the CRC members.

In fact, on Friday, the CRC leader who was almost stabbed was forced to appear in Wynberg Magistrates Court on false charges of assault which Abdul stealthy lodge on the day before the CRC attempted to hand him the memorandum. While the CRC leader is confident he will be vindicated in the courts by multiple witnesses, he is now afraid for his life because of the connections Abdul has with local gang-leaders.

The Newfields Anti-Eviction Campaign therefore calls on government officials and civil society to intervene and pressure the Hanover police to arrest Abdul who already has charges laid against him. The AEC calls on media to investigate this issue and expose the corruption and exploitation happening in many spaza shops in Hanover Park.

For more information and witness testimony contact the Newfields Village AEC Community Representative Committee.

Contacts:

Elizabeth Luis at 072-820-8495
Nazeem Sollomons at 082-938-4282
Andre Nicholas at 072-758-3435
Gary Hartzenberg at 072-392-5859

Click here for the memorandum that the community attemped to serve on Abdul.pdf

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