Extorting immigrant shopkeepers: Cash, cool drinks and paraffin for protesters in exchange for protection

2019-03-21 21:13
Premises leased out by a South African to an Ethiopian man were torched in Kwathema. The shopkeeper had to flee. (Kimberly Mutandiro, GroundUp)

Premises leased out by a South African to an Ethiopian man were torched in Kwathema. The shopkeeper had to flee. (Kimberly Mutandiro, GroundUp)

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During protests in Kwathema, last week, immigrants were terrorised and their shops looted. Some immigrant shops have remained closed.

Somali shop owner Boyca Ahmed told GroundUp that he pays for "protection" during protests by giving cash, cool drinks and paraffin to protesters.

"Those who do not contribute do not have protection during the protest and their shops get broken into," says Ahmed, who is 29 years old and came to the area in November 2018.

"They broke into my shop four times before l started contributing cold drinks and paraffin for the protests. I always give them two litres of paraffin for burning tyres during protests. On top of that l give them a crate of 18 cold drinks and another crate of energy drinks."

Ahmed says he also pays a total of R4000 a month to two men who "protect" and give him information whenever looting is planned.

"I can say that l am a lucky man. No one touches me or my stock now," he says.

The community of Extension 3 is planning a protest next week. Boyca Ahmed says he already has some paraffin and drinks to give to the planners of the protest.

Unprotected shop owners

On 8 March, Thuso Johannes Mamkwe, according to Kwathema police, was shot in the neck in a confrontation with an "Ethiopian national" and died. The Ethiopian fled and the community looted the shop, according to police. Three cartridges were found at the scene. No arrests have been made.

Last week, a mob torched the shop of "Joseph" (surname unknown), a Somali shopkeeper.

"Joseph" had a nine-year lease with Zongole Mjoli, agreed to in 2016.

Mjoli said that last week he was awoken at night by stones smashing his windows and landing on top of the roof of his shack in Extension 3, Kwathema.

"Everyone knows that when stones are thrown on top of the roof … a mob has come knocking," said Mjoli.

"It was terrifying. Voices were shouting that they had come for the Somali man, who was running a shop on my yard. Some were chanting, demanding that l open my gate."

Luckily, police had taken "Joseph" to safety earlier that day.

Mjoli said the mob broke into the shop and looted what they could. They stripped the metal shelves and doors. Then they poured paraffin and set a match to what remained.

The fire department extinguished the fire, but much of the stock had already been incinerated.

"Joseph" had nothing to do with the shooting, said Mjoli.

"I do not not know if he will come back because he is no longer answering my calls. The money which l got from renting the shop to him was my only source of livelihood as l am unemployed," he said.

"The sad thing about Joseph is that his family back home sold their house in Somalia to pay for his business,"  says Ahmed.

"He had been paying rent for his family back home monthly with proceeds from his shop. Now that his stock has been destroyed life has become difficult for not only him but his family in Somalia."

Ahmed says the Somali community is putting money together to try and help "Joseph".

Community protests ongoing

"Immigrant shop owners are caught up in the middle because people are trying to catch the attention of the government," said resident Nurse Mota.

"We have been living in shacks since 2007. Although we now have electricity and toilets, we still do not have houses," said resident Mthunzi Msezane.

The community has held protests every two weeks for the past three months.

"The most frustrating thing is that the municipality switches off our electricity and water asking us to pay rent. When we go to the office to pay rent they give us utility bills which are under other people's names. We want our houses to be registered in our names. How can l pay rent for a stand that does not belong to me?" asked Msezane.

Mota said: "My stand is registered under Mphahleli. I don't know who that is."

Msezane says he does not know why people loot when the protests are not about immigrant shop owners.

"I feel sorry for the Somalis," says South African fruit and vegetable vendor Smangaloso Mbaso, "because if they do not give the planners what they want their shops are looted."

"No one will dare loot my vegetables," he says.

"We do not even know who plans the protests. The protests start anytime and we are not even told."

Read more on:    gauteng  |  crime
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