Immigrant shopkeepers waiting for normality to return

2015-04-21 00:00

AS foreign shop owners try and get back to normality after last week’s wave of xenophobic violence, some are still wary of future attacks.

Pietermaritzburg’s CBD was back to its usual hustle and bustle yesterday, but shop owners said they have been extra vigilant, some standing on the doorsteps of their shops to keep a look out for trouble.

One Nigerian shop-owner in ­Raisethorpe, Ifeoma Madachukwu, said he has been on high alert since last week’s attacks.

Even though his shop was not looted, he said he “can never be too sure what might happen”.

“We believe it is over now but how can you tell. It is constant fear all the time of becoming a target,” Madachukwu said.

Madachukwu said he has been in ­constant conversation with other ­Nigerian shop owners over WhatsApp, keeping each other informed of ­xenophobic activity in the town.

“We have to do these things to keep safe. Some of us are making plans to go home, but the rest of us have to fight it out because our shops are all we have,” Madachukwu said.

A Somalian shop owner, Ilyaas Cawake, who runs a little grocery store in the upper CBD, said he now feels the effects of the xenophobic uprising on his sales.

“Sales have never been the same. Lots of South African customers don’t buy any more. We have always treated our customers well,” Cawake said.

Cawake said he was at his shop during the attacks last week.

“We heard from friends that a group of people were looting downtown. I chased out all my customers and shut my doors and hid at the back of the shop. I could hear the noises outside and I was scared,” Cawake said.

When asked how local attackers knew that he and other shop owners are ­foreign nationals, Cawake laughed and replied, “They just know.”

Pakistani national Mazhar Ilyas, who owns a shop in the CBD, said he hasn’t had any problems with xenophobia.

“We have heard lots of rumours, but we haven’t seen anything. We are fine and safe, as is our business. Pietermaritzburg is a nice and peaceful city with good people,” Ilyas said.

One woman, a Zimbabwean national named Kudukwashe Muchena, who runs a little stall on Retief Street, was not so lucky in escaping the attacks last week.

Muchena said she opened her stall on Sunday, but with only half the items available for sale since she was looted last week.

Muchena sells sweets, chips, cigarettes and fruit. “I was sitting here when they came at me. It happened so fast I could not do anything. They just came and swiped everything off the table and took all my things,” a man who interpreted for Muchena said.

Now, Muchena said, she is battling

because her stock is gone.

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