Foreign shop owners told to close
Tuesday May 15, 2018
Xenophobic and criminal attacks are a major concern for Somali shopkeepers like this one in Cape Town’s Philippi township who has been robbed seven times since 2010 © Kristy Siegfried/IRIN
Durban – Foreigners in Durban’s northern townships are living in fear after being told by locals to close down their shops by Thursday.
This has sparked panic among foreigners who believe the instruction issued by the Northern Region Business Association is a veiled threat and could be a precursor to xenophobic violence similar to that experienced in 2015.
The KZN Somali Community Council (KZNSCC) has written to various authorities, including the KZN premier, the police and the eThekwini mayor, calling for action and preventive measures to be implemented “before (the situation) is out of control”.
The KZNSCC said the notice distributed to foreign shop owners in townships such as the INK (Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu) areas and Phoenix amounted to xenophobic intimidation.
“Such evidence of xenophobic sentiments has been reported to local ward councillors and relevant police offices in order for the incident to be addressed and properly mitigated before it spirals into mob violence and spreads to the rest of the unaffected areas,” KZNSCC chairperson Ibrahim Hassan said in a letter to authorities.
Earlier this month, foreigners owning shops in townships received an instruction giving them 14 days to close their businesses.
The notice, dated May 3, states: “The North Region Business Association hereby instructs you to close down your shop and cease all operations within 14 days of this notice. You will receive the next instruction from your own association representative.”
The secretary of the association, Mlungisi Mncube, said his grouping was not backing down on this, despite various engagements that took place over the past week.
He said the instruction was meant to ensure that the foreigners left peacefully, and that there was no looting of their shops, as the local spaza shop owners were becoming increasingly impatient.
Authorities have been scrambling for a solution to the debacle, with the mayor’s office and other government officials convening a series of meetings aimed at resolving the situation.
“This past weekend we met with representatives from the Ethiopian embassy, but we told them that we cannot give them more time. All that needs to happen is for these shops to close down, then we can start a process of sifting, deciding who should come back and who should not,” said Mncube.
Thami Ngidi, spokesperson for Premier Willies Mchunu, said the premier was taking the matter very seriously and would be meeting all the stakeholders this week. He was confident that a lasting solution would be found.
“South Africa has in the past found solutions to many other problems. The premier will engage all the stakeholders as a matter of urgency.
“We realise that to find a permanent solution to the problem, this cannot just be treated as an issue of policing and enforcement,” Ngidi said. The premier was asking all the parties to exercise restraint, Ngidi added.
The mayor’s office has also intervened in the matter, and last week convened meetings with parties involved.
“We are working hard to ensure that a solution is found so that it does not get to that level (of violence), because if that is allowed to happen, there is a danger that it could spread to other parts of the city and the province. We are also involving the other spheres of government in these engagements,” said Mthunzi Gumede, spokesperson for the mayor’s office.
Tension has been simmering for a while in the northern townships, with locals accusing foreigners of putting them out of business.
Mncube said there were now about 1 500 spaza shops owned by foreign nationals in the INK areas.
“This is putting locals out of business. So many shops have closed down because we just cannot compete with the foreigners. They get huge discounts from the big wholesalers, but locals do not get that. It is not because they have any special type of skill that we do not. We do not fear competition but we are saying it must be regulated,” he said.
Mncube would not say what would happen to the foreigners if they didn’t close down their shops by Thursday.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said the police were aware of the letter that was circulated to shop owners.
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