Counting the cost of Soweto’s looting

2015-01-23 08:40

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An uneasy calm returned to Soweto last night following the xenophobic violence that has seen spaza shops that are owned by immigrants looted and the owners fleeing with heavily armed police escorts.

Although the looting continued into the night, police said more than 10 areas affected by the looting were relatively quiet.

Police and the government maintained that opportunistic and criminal behaviour, not xenophobia, was behind the violence, which began when a boy was shot by an immigrant for allegedly stealing from his shop on Monday.

Shop owners are still counting the cost of this week’s attacks on their businesses. A Somali shopkeeper estimated that the cost was “easily millions of rands” because many shop owners kept stock of up to R100 000 in their spaza shops.

Police, who also defused similar attempts to kick out foreigners who own shops on the East Rand, far away from Soweto last night, said they would ensure that the violence did not escalate into other areas.

Police had a tough time keeping angry mobs, mostly young children – some of whom were still in school uniforms – at bay as shop owners hastily threw their belongings into the back of trucks and fled the area in a hail of stones and bottles from locals.

Children as young as seven and elderly men and women could be seen participating in the looting and stone-throwing, which escalated when schools came out yesterday afternoon.

The looters took everything from sweets, bread and soap to branded fridges, which they carried past overwhelmed police officers – who were also attacked for protecting the shop owners.

Community members also threatened shop owners, telling them never to return to Soweto.

But not everyone joined in on the looting. Three elderly women begged the shop owners in Diepkloof not to leave because they would go hungry.

Phumzile Maluleke (67) said she could not afford to buy food from retail shops. At the spaza shops, food was cheaper and shop owners allowed them to buy food on credit.

“What are we going to do now? We can’t afford the bread, which is double the amount at big shops. Who will give us food for these children on credit? We are going to go hungry and it’s all the parents’ fault because they are not calling their children to order,” said Maluleke clutching the R9 she hoped to use for bread.

Since Monday’s shooting of 14-year old Mthetheleni Mahori in Snake Park, Soweto, police have arrested close to 80 people for theft and disturbing the peace.

The government was expected to send a team to assess the damage today, but nothing was confirmed last night.

More than 80 shops have been looted since Monday, but police said criminals were using the anger over Mahori’s death to steal and loot, and rejected reports of xenophobia.

Police said shop owners targeted in the attacks were provided with shelter in places of safety and community halls. Some of them opted to go home.

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