The clash between taxi operators and Somali business owners in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape this week is a worrying development that could escalate if not properly monitored.
The fight started between a taxi operator and a Somali businessperson after their vehicles collided. But it descended into a full-blown brawl after the taxi driver was supported by other operators and the businessperson’s car was set alight. The owner of the car then mobilised other business owners on the street. Most of them happen to be Somali nationals. Waving big guns, the men cleared the streets, chased taxi operators out of the area and burnt six of their vehicles.
By the evening, three Somali-owned shops had been razed to the ground in nearby townships after videos of the earlier clashes went viral.
Many South Africans were angered that foreign nationals allegedly do not respect the laws of the country and allegedly control parts of our business districts. Without any evidence, they also claim that foreign nationals have a sense of impunity and disregard the law in a way that they would not dare do in their countries of origin.
Regardless of whether or not the sentiments have merit, the antennas of government, especially the security cluster, should be raised. The last outbreak of xenophobic attacks in 2019 followed weeks after metro police in Johannesburg were attacked by armed hawkers in the inner city. The police were on a mission to confiscate fake goods being sold in the city centre, but shop owners resisted by attacking officers and damaging their vehicles. Videos of this also went viral and raised temperatures.
We are encouraged that there was a meeting between the groups in conflict to try to resolve the impasse this week. We are also heartened that Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the area to cool tempers.
They need to be on the ground and arrest those who break the law, irrespective of their nationality. More importantly, peaceful dialogue must be facilitated so that an ordinary road rage incident is not hijacked to cause mayhem.