The mystery of a xenophobic flare-up

2013-05-26 10:00

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Sebokeng residents say a Somali killed someone, but cops know nothing about it

Residents of Sebokeng in the south of Joburg have accused a Somali shop owner of shooting a young man dead during a wave of violent looting that rocked the township this week.

They are using the alleged shooting – which police say they are not aware of – to explain why foreign-owned spaza shops in Sebokeng were targeted by angry mobs this week.

But according to the residents’ version of events, the looting had already started in Sebokeng when the young man was reportedly killed.

An eyewitness told City Press the young man, identified only as Nkosana, was shot on Wednesday while trying to rip the roof off a Somali-owned shop.

Small Matlabe said he could not believe what he was seeing.

“It was like one of those war movies where people are just going for the kill.”

“His friends pushed him up the wall, while others banged on the security gates, trying to force them open. Others kept throwing stones, shouting that the Somalis must come out, or they will set the shop alight.

“This scene continued for some time, with more young people joining in. We suddenly heard a gunshot, and this guy fell from the roof to the ground and that’s when we realised he had been shot.”

The police’s Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said he did not know of any person being shot in this manner.

Sebokeng’s foreign residents have fled to Vereeniging. Some sat in a park next to the police station yesterday afternoon.

Tade Wold (24), an Ethiopian national, said he fled Sebokeng’s Zone 14 on Friday because he feared for his life. The shop he had run in Sebokeng for a year was looted.

“I have nothing. Even this jersey is not mine. My brother gave it to me,” said Wold. “I am now staying with my brother here in Vereeniging. I have nowhere to go and nothing to eat.”

Asked whether he would return to Sebokeng, Wold said: “I am waiting to hear from my brother.”

None of the other foreigners in the park was willing to be interviewed.

The alleged shooting has divided Sebokeng residents.

Some say foreigners are dangerous and those who have fled must not return. Others feel their neighbours should never have attacked the Somalis, who they claim did nothing wrong.

A 34-year-old woman, who refused to give her name because she feared she would be attacked, said: “What they did to the Somalis was wrong and painful. These people help us by bringing shops closer to us. They even let us buy on credit when we don’t have money.

“Now we have to take a taxi and pay R14 for a return trip to the nearest mall just to get a loaf of bread or milk.”

Matlabe offered a different view, one shared by other residents City Press interviewed yesterday.

“It doesn’t matter how cheap the Somalis were selling their goods. They must not come back. What they did shows how dangerous they are. They are no longer welcome in our community,” he said.

The attacks on foreign-owned shops stemmed from a service-delivery protest that started in Sebokeng’s Zone 7 on Monday.

Residents took to the streets demanding that a local ward councillor resign immediately.

Matlabe told City Press that as the week wore on, “the drug addicts took advantage of the situation and started going to shops owned by Somalis and looting them”.

“People who smoke nyaope (a drug) are crazy and would do anything to satisfy their craving. They saw an opportunity created by the protest and took it.”

The violence was not limited to Sebokeng. Police were called to Evaton and Orange Farm this week to stop looting and protect foreign spaza shop owners who were targeted.

Evaton and Sebokeng are separated by a road. Orange Farm is nearby.

The police’s Dlamini said 100 people were arrested between Wednesday and Friday.

They face charges of malicious damage to property, public violence and the possession of suspected stolen goods.

Sixty-one people arrested in Sebokeng and Evaton are due to appear in the Sebokeng Magistrates’ Court tomorrow, while the 39 arrested in Orange Farm are set to appear in the Vereeniging Magistrates’ Court tomorrow.

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