Acid attacks in trader wars

2008-04-20 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG street traders have found a new weapon with which to settle scores over trading spaces on city pavements.

The traders call their weapon an “acid bomb” — liquid drain cleaner, containing highly corrosive sulphuric acid, which they fling on to their victim.

The Witness learned that even innocent bystanders have been scarred for life by acid bombs that have missed their target.

The drain cleaner is available in shops, and is resold by the traders. It has a devastating effect when it comes into contact with flesh. Traders said it has become common for them to use the acid to settle scores.

“I have seen a number of people here using this acid during the fights. It is dangerous, as the victims remain with permanent severe burn marks. Imagine what would happen if it caught you in the eye,” said street vendor Sifiso Mbele.

Vendors buy it in one-litre containers, dilute it with water to increase the quantity and profits, and sell it in “nips” for R10.

Even after being mixed with water it remains dangerous.

The Witness learnt that there have already been four victims of the acid bomb attacks. The latest victim, who was injured last Saturday in Pietermaritz Street near the Imbali taxi rank, where fights over trading space is common, might still be in hospital. Traders said his surname is Buthelezi, but neither the hospital he was taken to nor the exact location of his Willowfountain home was known.

Another victim is Malawian Aseni Jandi (35), who was badly burned by an acid bomb in October last year. His South African attacker, who is known as Sandi, was not arrested and has since moved to trade on another street. Jandi is now partially disfigured.

“I was attacked over an empty bottle of cold drink. A guy lent me the bottle as I wanted to buy a cold drink. A few minutes later, he demanded that I return it.

“Later he realised that I had not finished drinking it, so he shouted at me, and also accused me of occupying a space that he said should be occupied by a South African citizen. The next thing I knew, he bought a bottle of acid, opened it and threw it at me. I felt enormous pain as my skin started to swell,” said Jandi.

Jandi said the police arrived, but after he told them he is a Malawian national without immigration documents, they left him writhing in pain without taking a statement. A fellow trader took him to Northdale Hospital. He is still receiving treatment.

Traders who saw Buthelezi burnt with acid are still shocked.

“Two men were fighting … One … grabbed a bottle … and threw it … but it missed … and landed on Buthelezi … Police arrived, but the attacker … disappeared,” said Thomas Magubane.

Police spokesman Inspector Joey Jeevan is yet to confirm if police have opened assault cases in connection with the attacks.

“The fact that the person does not have the right documents … doesn’t mean that they should be attacked,” said Jeevan.

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