Foreign shop owners in SA – Bearing the brunt of non-delivery?

2012-08-04 15:00

Refugee rights groups have claimed that foreigners are being used as scapegoats for bigger issues such as service delivery, unemployment and corruption.

This follows attacks on foreign-owned shops after service delivery protests.

The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA says that after a spate of looting in Botshabelo, 45km outside
Bloemfontein, “over 500 people from the Ethiopian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities were displaced and more than 700 shops affected”.

Mike Molloyi, the provincial chairperson for the African Cooperative for Hawkers and Informal Businesses, which helps South African businesspeople obtain start-up capital, said the looting was started by “a group of scavengers” that took advantage of an already tense situation.

“Hawkers at the informal trading centre Reahola Complex in Botshabelo were given seven days’ notice to move, but the municipality moved in and bulldozed their stalls in the middle of the night before the notice date lapsed,” said Molloyi.

Hawkers were angry and took to the streets, and two people, both locals, died in three days of violence, he said.

Finally a task team was formed to address the situation.

“But we withdrew after realising that the politicians just want to smooth things over and avoid addressing the real problems.”

Molloyi said he was shocked to learn that there were more than 700 spaza shops in Botshabelo alone.

“In H section there are 20 shops and one has to keep in mind that local spaza shop owners and hawkers are not businesspeople, they are survivalists,” he said.

 “They lose their only source of income when foreign shop owners set up shop right next to or opposite them.”

He said foreigners often undersold the locals for a couple of months, forcing them to close shop.

The foreigners could do this, he said, because they had financial support from other foreigners.

“The foreign communities live and breathe ubuntu,” he said, adding that many of the foreigners were asylum seekers with permits allowing them to study and work.

“The majority don’t study, they just set up these shops for which they do not need a permit.”

Molloyi said they were supposed to have health certificates, but no one inspected them.

But not all locals were so unhappy with the foreigners.

Opposite two spaza shops, Malefane Mpatsi (21) owns a fruit-and-vegetable market.

He rides 90km a day on his battered bicycle to the city and back to buy stock for his market in the early morning.

“I have a good relationship with my foreign neighbours. We help each other out,” he said.

Mpatsi said the proximity of the spaza shops to his market doesn’t negatively affect his business.

He still manages to make about R500 a day in turnover to ensure a steady income for himself and his younger sister.

“We complement each other. And sometimes I sell some of my products to them when they run out of stock,” he said.

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