I’m not illegal, I’m cheap

2011-05-21 10:28

Bangladeshi national Pinu Moohsin stared down the ­barrel of a gun, but did not flinch. ­Instead, he fought the armed would-be robbers.

He recounts the incidents in his shop in one of Katlehong’s main streets, where he runs a neat grocery store and a fast-food outlet.

“I took police to their house, but they didn’t arrest them,” he says, while admonishing a group of ­toddlers coming into the shop.

Moohsin says he was advised by his landlord not to lay a charge against the four young men who stole from his shop to keep the peace between him and the locals, which he accepted.

“One has been arrested (but for another incident),” he says.

From the counter in his store, a mattress is clearly visible in the adjacent room. It is his sleeping quarters.

He shrugs off questions about his living ­arrangements.

The 24-year-old employs three South Africans and is assisted by a relative from Bangladesh.

Moohsin complains that ­passers-by have stolen his stock and run away countless times.

“Late at night, they steal.”

Katlehong is not the first ­neighbourhood where Moohsin has set up shop.

Before Katlehong, he ran a takeaway shop in Westbury in Johannesburg, which he took over from a struggling local businessman.
“There was a sales problem so I left,” he says.

The “sales problem” included paying R80 000 to take over the shop – R30 000 for the building and R50 000 for the equipment. He also paid R4 000 a month in rent.

“The landlord made shit and threatened me with cops,” he says.

His landlord from hell never gave him back his R80 000, as per their agreement, he says.

Moohsin buys his stock at a ­local wholesaler, Cliffy’s Cash and Carry, which he says is run by a “local Indian guy”.

A South African salesman from Cliffy’s Cash and Carry, driving a bakkie with a smiling President Jacob Zuma “vote ANC” sticker, makes a turn at Moohsin’s shop to take orders.

The man asks Moohsin to place an order quickly because he has a “big ANC meeting” to attend on the night before the municipal elections.

Though sympathetic to township traders, Moohsin blames them for “thinking about themselves and not their customers”.

“They complain about our cheap prices,” Moohsin says. “We’re selling things cheap to black people, but they don’t want us here,” he adds.

He points to a half a dozen eggs, which he sells for R6.

“At black people’s shops, it’s R7 or R7.50,” he says, adding that struggling customers can even buy a loose egg for R1 while “at black people’s shops” the price is R1.50.

The wholesale price of six eggs is R5.99.

Moohsin denies foreign traders do not have the correct documentation. “We’re not illegal, we’re ­legal,” he retorts.

He claims his business is registered with the Companies and ­Intellectual Property Registration Office and has a tax clearance certificate (which he refused to show).

Moohsin only has asylum ­papers, but has not returned to Bangladesh since 2008.

“If I go, I can’t come back.”

Though he misses his family, Moohsin believes he has no other option but to stay in South Africa.

As an activist with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, he says he was a political problem for the authorities, which made him leave the Asian country.

“I didn’t know anyone in SA. I just took a chance and, when I ­arrived, I asked people from my country for help,” Moohsin says.

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