Looting is a part of SA’s troubled history

2015-01-25 06:00

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The senseless plundering of foreign-owned shops in Soweto this week is nothing new.

It is something that would have been a daily reality in the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

A group of young men drag a steel gate taken from a spaza shop in Diepkloof, Soweto. Picture:Leon Sadiki/City Press

The difference is that the victims were not foreigners then, it was big business that was associated with white people.

Soweto didn’t have a single foreigner then.

In those dark days of the struggle against apartheid, anything associated with white people had to be destroyed.

Criminals, then known as comtsotsis (comrade tsotsis), were fighting apartheid by day and offenders by night. They soon realised they could exploit the volatile situation in the township. They would instigate young people and cause mayhem.

The victims were mostly light- and heavy-duty delivery trucks which, for some reason, had made a detour into Soweto.

Soweto was a no-go area at the time. The township had achieved notoriety during the student uprisings in 1976.

The only trucks that went into Soweto were from SA Breweries, Coca-Cola, and from bakeries. These trucks were known as “targets”.

The plundering of targets was so serious that SAB and Coca-Cola decided that to continue doing business in Soweto, they would have to protect their property. So the trucks were escorted by heavily armed guards.

I remember partaking in the looting of a Simba chips truck on Old Potchefstroom Road in Protea South, Soweto, in February 1994. Then the road, now Chris Hani, was a single-lane road connecting Soweto to the N12.

I was in Grade 8 at Naledi High School and the entire school had marched to the Protea North police station to demand the release of pupils who had been arrested. I can’t remember why they had been arrested.

After the march, we were hungry and our leaders decided we should look for a “target”.

When we arrived on Old Potchefstroom Road we spotted the truck and decided to barricade the road. The driver fled and the rest is history.

The seeds of intolerance have always been part of Soweto. They were planted by the fathers of apartheid who decided to subdivide the township according to South Africa’s different ethnic groups.

And there were unwritten rules about people venturing into undesignated areas, unless they were courting trouble.

In 1996, a cousin who lived in Naledi decided to do his shopping in Mndeni, and as soon as he crossed the road separating the two – he was robbed.

The ethnic violence between Sotho- and Zulu-speaking sections of Klipspruit and Pimville Zone One claimed many young people in the late 90s.

The looting of foreign-owned shops has a strong similarity to what happened then. The only difference is that parents have retired from looting and their sons and daughters have taken over the baton.

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