Immigrant shop owners in PE township fed up with police

Perpetrators of xenophobic violence seldom arrested, they complain

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Photo of man standing outside colourful shop
Somali shopkeeper Allen Siraach said he named his spaza shop Abahlali as a way to forge good relationships with the residents of KwaDwesi Extension. Standing outside the shop is Malawian Oscar Flank. Photo: Joseph Chirume

Immigrant business owners in a Port Elizabeth township, KwaDwesi Extension, complain that the police are not doing enough to stop criminals who rob their shops.

On Tuesday a shop was emptied by looters in a xenophobic incident. The violence was sparked by a group of disgruntled residents who accused the ANC ward 36 councillor of not developing their area. The residents then turned their anger on immigrant-owned shops and looted them.

Jilalau Bonger has a spaza shop in Nzo street. “I opened this shop last year in August. From that time I’ve been robbed four times. During the third robbery my brother chased the car the criminals were driving and took the number plates. One community member also recorded the number plates. It was also later discovered that the criminals were known to the community but with all the information supplied to the police they never even gave us feedback on the cases,” said the 32-year-old Ethiopian.

Bonger said that the police were quick to respond to a crime scene, but he wanted them to make arrests to deter other perpetrators.

“I have lost a fortune as a result of these robberies. Every time they rob me, I have to borrow money to start again. This is the only profession I know. I can’t even send money to Ethiopia to my parents because I am always being targeted by criminals,” he said.

Bonger said he arrived in South Africa in search of a better life in 2005.

He recounted that when he arrived in South Africa, he virtually had no money and had to rely on his countrymen in Johannesburg.

He explained: “I started selling belts, hats, umbrellas, and wallets in the streets of Johannesburg. I raised enough money and moved to Bloemfontein where I opened two spaza shops. Unfortunately the shops were targeted and emptied by criminals during the xenophobic violence of 2012.”

Bonger said he was saved by alert community members on Tuesday who advised him to close his shop.

“The people here are just awesome. They really know the importance of this shop to them. The nearest shops are about three kilometres away so I give them a good service. I also give them goods on credit, something big supermarkets don’t do,” said Bonger.

The owner of the spaza shop that was emptied could not be located and the shop was closed with a group of young men milling around it.

Somali Allen Siraach owns a shop in Ngwenda street, less than a kilometre from Bonger’s place. He and his two co-workers had to physically fend off a group of attackers. “It was a big crowd. They were singing. At first I thought they were celebrating the ANC victory. A few of them forced themselves inside the shop and grabbed some fruit and drinks. We ran out and picked up some stones which we used to hit them and they ran away,” he said. “These people are from nearby Marikana and Westville informal settlements. I hope the police will arrest the culprits so we can live peacefully “

Community member, Nosihle Kota, 48, said the police should protect immigrants. “Somalian business people are helping us very much. The police should protect them, especially by arresting criminals. As a community we agreed to come to their aid whenever they are under attack. The problem is we give the police all the information but have never heard of any arrests and convictions.”

Somali Association of South Africa secretary, Mohamed Kat, said the criminals should be convicted and serve time in prison for their crimes. “What surprises us is that some are quickly released on free bail while others are not arrested at all. Why should they not be arrested given all the information we supply to the police? Now some shop owners are afraid to open cases fearing that the suspects will come back and attack the complainant. No one is safe in this country. Strong measures should be put in place to safeguard foreigners.”

Police spokesperson Captain Andre Beegte responded: “As police our duty is to identify and arrest the suspects. The issue of convictions is done by the courts. Ours is to ensure peace and stability in our communities. We arrest the perpetrators and surrender them to the courts. Some foreigners are not interested in opening cases fearing for their lives but I encourage them to approach us for help.”

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TOPICS:  Immigration Policing Violence

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