In harm’s way for their African brother

2013-10-13 14:00

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Not all foreigners are treated with contempt. Tamirat Abuto Bure tells his story

At the corner of New Brighton’s Avenue A, there’s a shop. It’s been looted.

Walk another 400 metres down the same street, and you’ll find another shop. It’s been looted too.

Turn right at the corner of Avenue A and pass two streets. At the third, turn left into KwaMasangana Street and meet Tamirat Abuto Bure, whose doors are open and whose stock is where it should be: on the shelves.

Bure, an Ethiopian, was unaffected by the violence that swept through New Brighton, Port Elizabeth late last month.

That’s because he was protected by local residents who placed themselves in harm’s way outside the shop, telling looters to get lost and leave “our” Ethiopian alone.

Bure, whose shop is named after the street, was the only foreigner whose store was spared and remained open throughout the week of violent protests that swept through New Brighton, KwaZakhele, Zwide and Motherwell and saw more than 110 locals arrested.

The looting was sparked by the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old man, allegedly by a Somalian shopkeeper who had earlier sold him expired airtime.

As the teenager was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to hospital, locals attacked foreigners’ shops. There are Somali-, Pakistani- and Ethiopian-owned businesses in this part of New Brighton.

More than 10 shops owned by foreigners were broken into and looted, and two shops and a vehicle were burnt beyond repair.

Terrified foreigners were whisked to safety by the police, fleeing the township as it burnt and angry mobs bayed for blood.

But Bure stood his ground.

He remembers watching looters approaching his shop, speaking isiXhosa.

He says they said: “Uvuleleni lo ubaluleke ngantoni, namhlanje sizakumtshisela kulevenkile (Why is this one open, does he think he is special? Today we will show him who we are. We are going to burn down this shop with him inside).” Bure speaks isiXhosa fluently and understood every word.

Then Noyi Makana stepped in front of the crowd. Makana had assembled a group of locals from the area to provide security for the shop, in anticipation of any confrontation.

Bure says: “I was scared. I thought I was going to die. I was the only foreigner in the township and the people were angry. They wanted to kill anybody who was a foreigner. The shooting (of the 19-year-old) took place a few streets away.”

But Makana says he had no second thoughts. He views Bure as a humble man who is part of their community. “We don’t see him as a foreigner, but a brother.

“He is one of us. When someone goes to him asking for help or transport to hospital, he never hesitates to assist. He gives our elderly residents groceries on credit when they don’t have money. Why would you want to attack someone like that? We need him,” Makana insists.

Bure has run his shop in KwaMasangana since 2009, with no problems.

“We live together in total harmony. I can walk in the streets at night. I socialise with the people. They are my customers. They help me, I help them. It’s a case of mutual respect.”

But just across the road, things are strikingly different.

New Brighton resident Xhanti Banzi says foreigners should leave, because they have become armed and dangerous.

Banzi was in front of the shop in Avenue A when he heard three shots. “A harmless guy was shot three times in the chest. What kind of businessman shoots his customers in cold blood? What happened to ‘the customer is always right?’ There is huge tension. These guys (foreigners) are very rude. They walk around as if they own this place and forget they are visitors,” he says.

Shops have quietly reopened, but their foreign owners are still terrified.

Lungelo Nondaba, a South African, says both foreigners and locals must change their attitudes.

“These people were friendly when they first arrived, but because of criminal elements they got guns.

“Once they had weapons, they became rude, arrogant and wild.”

Areas where foreign-owned shops have been looted (2011-2013)

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