Foreign shop owners in SA – Foreigners’ fear and loathing in Gauteng

2012-08-04 15:19

“I hope I have not made enemies for myself by speaking to you,” says businessman Samuel Motaung when we part at his property in Tembisa on Gauteng’s East Rand.

A decade ago, he bought land in the Mayibuye settlement and built business premises he now rents out.

One of his tenants is a Somali consortium which operates a thriving supermarket.

Motaung is concerned about the icy and hostile attitude displayed by local traders towards his tenants – and with good reason.

A recent survey conducted by consumer-insights company Pondering Panda found there was “significant resentment towards foreigners running spaza shops”.

At least 44% of respondents felt foreigners should be stopped from running them while 46% said they should be allowed to stay, with 10% undecided.

The survey also found that residents of Western Cape and North West were most negative towards foreign-owned businesses.

Researcher Butch Rice says the survey’s findings confirm “that recent outbreaks of violence in the Western Cape show that the problem is deep seated.”

But not only there.

Last year, the South Gauteng High Court ordered Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Gauteng police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mzwandile Petros, and the Greater Gauteng Business Forum not to intimidate or interfere with the businesses of Somali traders in the province’s townships.

The case was brought by five Somali traders, shop owners from Boksburg and Soweto, as well as members of the Somali Community Board who wanted to be allowed to trade unhindered in Ramaphosa and Moroka after being intimidated by the forum.

Motaung says that when he rented out space to his Somali tenants to run a supermarket, it was purely a business decision.

“So far no one has ever come to me to complain about them. But when they hear that foreign nationals are being attacked elsewhere they get worried. I also get worried.

“They are always worried about being attacked, but so far we haven’t experienced that,” he says.

“There are people in the community who would threaten them now and then, and also naughty boys who come in, steal and run away.

“Some of them are just taking advantage because they know these people are scared because they are foreigners,” he says.

Abshir Omar Hassan, who works at the busy supermarket, says they are often raided by corrupt police officers who extort money from them and sometimes help themselves to their stock.

“Tsotsis are our biggest problem,” he says, “we always worry about being shot.”

Amir Sheikh of the Somali Community Board says foreign traders don’t feel protected by the law.

Until last year, an estimated 1 200 Somali traders were killed across the country, but in almost all cases there have been no arrests or convictions.

“The migrant in South Africa is a prey for everyone. They feel helpless. One of them is killed today, he’s buried the next day and he’s forgotten.

"Then another gets killed and gets buried the next day. That is the life,” says Sheikh.

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