Campaign against foreign township traders spreads

2011-05-14 16:17

Attacks against foreign traders in Gauteng townships are “strictly business” and have “nothing to do with xenophobia or politics”.

So says Makhosana Mhlanga, the chairperson of the Greater Gauteng Business Forum, an ­organisation which abruptly sprang up last month and has a claimed membership of 20 000.

Mhlanga claims their actions are driven purely by “a business agenda to address the economic imbalances in our society”.

Hundreds of immigrant shopkeepers have been terrorised and harassed out of their township spaza shops in recent weeks by the organisation.

“We feel that all foreigners who entered the country illegally or don’t have a business licence to run spaza shops should leave ­because they are destroying our small local businesses and ­exploiting our people,” says ­Mhlanga.

Dr Loren Landau, a leading ­academic who has extensively ­researched xenophobic attacks in South Africa, says political and economic interests are key factors.

In “almost every instance”, he says, threats against foreign ­business owners “are triggered by highly localised economic or ­political interests”.

Local government elections “undoubtedly provide a fertile ­environment for such mobilisation,” adds Landau.

Three years after the 2008 ­attacks and just metres away from where 35-year-old ­Mozambican national Ernesto ­Alfabeto Nhamuave was burnt alive in Ramaphosa informal ­settlement, turmoil still threatens to break out, with foreign nationals being told to leave the area.

On the same street where Nhamuave was set alight, 12 shops belonging to Pakistanis, Somalis and Ethiopians were forcibly closed down last week by ­residents.

Although the atmosphere is not as tense as it was in 2008, some residents fear this new wave of ­intimidation may trigger another xenophobic battle.

One resident, known as Oom Jeff, says: “It’s not the whole ­community that is against foreigners, it’s just a small minority of local business people who have a problem with them.”

He says the rest of the community doesn’t mind foreign nationals trading in the area ­because they sell goods at cheaper prices.

The Somali Community Board, a body that represents the interests of Somalis in SA, has appointed an attorney to represent the Somalis who were affected by the xenophobic threats.

Gauteng police spokesperson Colonel Lungelo Dlamini says that police have conducted operations in all flashpoints since the Greater Gauteng Business ­Forum started delivering notices to ­foreign shop owners, giving them seven days to close shop.

He adds that police hope the ­organisation’s actions will not signal the return of the deadly 2008 attacks.

Police in Katlehong and Soweto say 80 people have been arrested for intimidation since the business forum’s activities started but Dlamini would not confirm the ­figure.

The campaign has spread to the Eastern Cape.

Fourteen shops owned by Somalis in the Motherwell area were looted and some burnt on Thursday, Eastern Cape police say.

In the Western Cape, the Peninsula Business Forum marched to Parliament this week to complain that foreign shop owners were “killing their businesses”, Daily Sun reports.

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