‘Councillor instigated looting’

2015-01-25 06:00

The man accused of instigating the looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto on Monday night will not back down on his warnings to community members about not following municipal bylaws when letting out their properties to foreigners to trade.

Joburg’s Ward 129 councillor, Jabulani Thomo, has accused his community of Snake Park in Soweto of misinterpreting his comments.

This came after 14-year old Siphiwe Mahori was shot dead by a foreign shop owner.

Thomo said since he took office in 2011, he has maintained his stance and his warnings to community members not to build unsustainable back-yard dwellings to rent out at their homes and let out properties to foreigners who they know nothing about.

His comments follow interviews City Press had with residents who said he had instigated the looting which quickly spread throughout Soweto and as far as Kagiso on the West Rand.

Thomo admitted addressing the community and warning them about letting out their properties to foreign shop owners without following procedure.

“I have always warned this community and I will never change. This [looting] was waiting to happen whether I spoke or not. There was nothing different I said on Monday night from what I have said to the community in many meetings before – that they should be careful not to rent out their properties without following the proper municipal bylaws,” said Thomo.

He said he had given up trying to keep track of the number of spaza shops in the area and said they were “mushrooming uncontrollably every week”.

On Friday, at a community meeting attended by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, Joburg mayor Parks Tau and Gauteng MEC for economic development Lebogang Maile, Thomo warned hundreds of community members that the community was not ready to bar those who were removed from Soweto from returning to the area.

At the meeting, community members were unanimous that they would not allow foreigners who had shops in the area to return.

Thomo said if the community did not want foreigners to open up shops in the area, they should be ready to operate them as they served poor people who often did not have the money to buy groceries at big retailers.

“But we are saying if they return they must follow the law. I do not know whether they will return because emotions are still too high. We need long- term solutions,” Thomo said.

He told City Press that a group of people in cars went from one area to the another sparking the looting and prompting locals to loot.

Recounting events leading up to the looting, which went on for four days, Thomo said he and the police spent Monday night going to shops owned by foreigners – some of whom were already asleep – warning them to leave the area as groups of looters were on the rampage.

This is the same story recounted to City Press by some of the relatives of the 153 who were arrested for theft and public violence this week and appeared in the Protea Magistrates’ Court.

“This group went from one place to another looting. We saved some shops from being looted and I even used my van to help some of them move,” Thomo said.

A relative of a 19-year-old girl who was arrested on Wednesday holding a hairpiece she had taken from a shop told City Press his niece was “caught in the moment” of looting and had joined in.

The girl, who has a three-month-old baby, appeared with two others from Diepkloof who were arrested for stealing two cans of cooldrinks and three packets of chips. They were remanded in custody until next Thursday for a bail hearing.

The man said his niece had just returned to her new job when they saw six cars moving to a shop owned by a Bangladeshi national and looting it.

“The people in the cars took big items and left within 10 minutes. Then people started going there and looting. My niece joined in and stole a hairpiece, but was arrested by police as she tried to run away. “There was nothing happening in our area until those cars arrived and looted,” said the man who was refused a chance to give his niece shoes as she walked into the courtroom barefoot.

Many of those arrested, many of whom are unemployed, said they regretted the fact that they were arrested for “silly” things like packets of chips.

Lindiwe Sithole’s 20-year-old daughter was also caught with a packet of chips and a cooldrink she had taken from one of the spaza shops.

Sithole was in tears when she heard her daughter, one of 55 people remanded in custody on Friday, would spend a week behind bars at the notorious Sun City prison before applying for bail next week.

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