“They are our last hope to protect us, but no, they are part of the problem.”
This was one allegation levelled at police by Soweto resident *Thando Xego in the aftermath of the looting of spaza shops owned by foreign nationals in six townships.
The looting spree in Zola, Emdeni, Moletsane, White City, Zondi and Rockville townships began around 3pm on Wednesday and ended in the early hours of Thursday morning.
When the dust settled, only seven suspects were arrested, police confirmed this week.
Xego’s sentiments about the alleged police misconduct were echoed by other residents in different townships.
Speaking to City Press a day after the mass looting, local residents relived the horrifying scenes of men carrying pangas, spades, axes, chisels and axe picks, invading their private spaces.
At times the men climbed on to the rooftops of their homes to access nearby spaza shops.
Residents revealed how wave after wave of looters stormed into spaza shops, looting anything they could find – from fridges to making off with small items such as packs of sweets.
“I had to fire shots in the air to disperse them, but they came back. I decided to hide my firearm because it was clear that this time they were coming for me. Some of them somehow climbed up and made it on to the rooftops of our homes to get to the shops. They were so many. It was scary,” one resident said.
A shop near his home was looted and nothing was left behind.
“During the fracas, police arrived but instead of arresting the looters they started loading stock on to a state Ford bakkie. We watched in horror. The whole thing looked like it was organised,” another alleged.
Other local residents claimed to also have seen police loading stock from spaza shops on to state bakkies.
In the aftermath of the looting spree, Captain Kay Makhubele, spokesperson for Gauteng police, said seven suspects were arrested after they were found in possession of suspected stolen goods.
He said a case of public violence was being investigated by police.
City Press discovered that most shops that were looted were attached to locals residents’ houses, while those that were located at shopping centres appeared not to have been affected.
This was among the reasons that local residents feared that the looters, especially nyaope addicts and other drug users, could return and invade their homes, and called for more police visibility.
They alleged that looted shops were never treated as crime scenes by police. Police, they alleged, did not return to the crime scenes on Thursday to gather evidence.
Those who had called police said officers arrived on time on Wednesday night, but then left again without interviewing anyone.
In one shop, a local resident said police arrived around 3pm on Wednesday to warn the owner that there were looters coming his way and that he must hide his stock.
“We didn’t sleep on Wednesday night. Our lives were in danger. My husband tried to ask the looters to leave but they refused. There were about 20 or more of them. We hid the shop owner because he was also scared and he could not do anything while his shop was being looted,” said another.
The nyaope users, said one local resident, even slept at one of the shops until Thursday morning.
“They were not bothered. What’s worse is that we have young girls in our homes and we have these thugs roaming around, who are not even scared of getting arrested. They slept at the crime scene and left this morning. They could come back looking for anything they can use to break into our homes.”
However, Makhubele said police had not detected that the shops which were targeted were those attached to local residents’ homes.
He said police had been deployed to Soweto. “Remember that police will not be all over. Community members themselves are the ones who can help police to do their work. All of this needs authorities to engage with the community to get those responsible.”
He cited a visit made by Kgosientso Ramokgopa, Gauteng MEC for economic development, agriculture and environment, to the township on Thursday as a good example.
Makhubele said he accompanied Ramokgopa and during the visit it transpired that the attack on police in the Johannesburg CBD last week was among the reasons cited by local residents as having resulted in the looting.
He said police would continue with their investigation into the looting, adding that those who had made allegations against police should go to police stations to report what they saw.
He urged local residents, who can identify officers who didn’t conduct themselves in an acceptable manner, to lay a complaint at police stations so that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate can investigate.
*Not his real name