As gunshots sent residents running indoors, looters ploughed through Thokoza’s backyards grasping boxes of stolen goods and fleeing from officers who were trying desperately to get some sort of control on the chaos.
“I am in distress. My grandchild [nine years old] is traumatised. We cannot even sleep at night because we don’t know if our house might just break out in flames,” 50-year-old MmaThato Selaila, who has been a resident of Thokoza for more than 10 years, told City Press.
The tension was felt throughout the streets of the East Rand as law enforcement officers tried to bring to justice the perpetrators of the looting and violence that spread like wildfire throughout Gauteng, reaching Ekurhuleni on Wednesday afternoon.
“As much as people are blaming foreigners, if they want foreigners to go back to their countries, allow them to leave in peace. How is this violence helping? In the end, we as South Africans will be left with the burden of the aftermath,” said Selaila.
“The government must fix this and stop putting the lives of its citizens in danger. There has to be a way of regulating foreigners and their stay in the country.”
As we speak to Selaila, a group of four men run through her yard carrying goods, including a crate of one-litre cooldrinks and bags of rice and other cooking ingredients.
“These are the ones looting,” she says as she shows me the backyard where the four men came through.
She adds: “They jump on my fence, which they have now dismantled. They are running from the cops.”
Selaila retreats inside as the sound of gunshots gets closer and closer.
For three Somali men, the day ended in a car chase between themselves and law enforcement down Yende Street.
“The flying squad was deployed to Thokoza because the looting was out of control. When police were on Khumalo Street, they heard gunshots and subsequently rushed to the scene,” said Captain Vuyisile Mvelase of Thokoza police station.
“When they got there, community members pointed out a white Nissan Tiida and a Honda. Police chased three Somali men who were in these cars. As the suspects approached a traffic light towards Eden Park the police cut them off and apprehended them.”
Mvelase said the three men, whose names cannot be disclosed because they have not appeared in court, were taken to Thokoza Police Station, where they would be charged with the possession of illegal firearms.
“Police found the men with two unlicensed firearms with ammunition and arrested them,” she said.
Mvelase added that the three men owned a shop in the area and told City Press that “they could have been defending themselves from the looting, we don’t know. We don’t know if they were fighting back and protecting themselves.”
Businesses in the area and surrounding townships, including Spruitview, remained closed for the rest of the day.
On Tuesday, City Press reported that the looting and violence had spread to areas such as Alexandra and the Johannesburg CBD, where Police Minister Bheki Cele addressed media and community members.
On the same day, Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba took to Twitter calling for the South African National Defence Force to intervene.