Friday, June 21, 2013
Foreigners flee in fear
Cape Town - Wallacedene was calmer on Thursday night, but fearful foreign nationals still felt unsafe and resorted to spending the night outside the police station in Kraaifontein, after estimates that more than 200 Somali-owned shops had been looted, and many set alight.
Foreigners said they were threatened with violence by “the Xhosas” in Wallacedene and thought it would be better to take their belongings and sleep outside the police station.
Protests broke out in the area after residents claimed there was corruption with the allocation of RDP houses. They alleged the houses were sold to people from other areas.
At a burnt-out container that was used as a Somali shop some residents rummaged through the rubble in hopes of finding food products that were left after the inferno. Others used grinders and spades to cut up pieces of the container to sell for scrap.
One woman, who was waiting for her boyfriend to bring a trolley to take their loot home, said they were poor and the “free” goods would help them.
“I wasn’t here when the fire started but I got a lot of stuff like I got some rice, Surf and beans.”
She said she would share the goods with the rest of her family.
Michelle Daniels’s thoughts differed. She said the looting was wrong and that this was not about the housing issues anymore.
“They were striking for houses and now they are robbing the shops. It was very wrong what happened here. It was wrong to burn down the shops, I feel for these (Somali) people.”
Despite thinking the looting was wrong, she admitted taking a bag of rice and beans.
A resident in Bloekombos, a few blocks from Wallacedene, said she rented out a room in her house to Somali shopkeepers and was trying to protect the fridges and other valuables left behind.
“It was mostly youngsters that were involved in the looting and the Somalis came back a few days ago and I haven’t seen them since.”
Police spokesman Colonel Andre Traut said the looting was the result of criminals using the volatile situation as an opportunity to carry out criminal acts.
He said 55 people had been arrested on charges of public violence and were due to appear in the Kuils River Magistrates Court on Monday.
“Provincial commissioner of the Western Cape Police Lieutenant-General Arno Lamoer met with community leaders and representatives from Somali-owned businesses and addressed their concerns. Lieutenant-General Lamoer strongly condemned the violence and assured the community that it will not be tolerated.”
There was a heavy police presence in the area and Traut said police would remain there to monitor the situation. Earlier, police described the situation in Wallacedene as being “under control”.
However, looters remained busy on Thursday afternoon. With little left to steal, they resorted to stripping metal and other scrap from containers that had housed shops.
Protests over alleged corruption in the handing over of RDP houses spilled over into xenophobic violence and looting on Wednesday.
Braam Hanekom, director of refugee rights NGO People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty, said between 10 and 20 Zimbabweans had been displaced from the RDP houses they were renting by angry residents on Tuesday.
The protesters contend that the houses should have been made available to registered beneficiaries.
Mohammed Aden Osman, co-ordinator for the Somali community in the Western Cape, estimated that more than 200 Somali shops had been looted since the protest was hijacked by “opportunistic criminals”.
While authorities could not confirm this number, every shop the Cape Argus came across in the area had been looted, with many of them set alight.
At the meeting between Lamoer, Osman and Wallacedene community leaders at the station on Thursday, discussion centred on the community’s housing grievances and police protection for Somalis.
Yet, despite police assurances, running battles between police and hundreds of residents on the streets of Wallacedene continued yesterday afternoon.
Residents pelted a police nyala with stones and stripped what remained of the Somali shops of anything that could be sold for scrap.
The embers of fires were still burning in shops that had been torched during the night as residents, often consisting of groups of young children, sifted through the debris.
Hammers and crowbars were used to pry scrap loose - the last of the merchandise had been carried away during the course of Wednesday night.
Rumours that the private residences of Zimbabweans would become the next target led to panic.
Early on Thursday, a group of Zimbabwean men - one armed with an axe and the others carrying knives - inspected a looted and ruined television repair shop owned by one of them.
They said they were were willing to protect their homes by force if the rumours turned out to be true.
Later, the Cape Argus witnessed a number of bakkies transporting loads of furniture out of the area. It could not be confirmed whether these were possessions owned by foreigners.
Linda Masuka, one of a group of Zimbabwean women outside the police station, told the Cape Argus she would not return home while uncertainty over the community’s attitude towards Zimbabweans remained.
Hanekom, however, dispelled the fears as alarmist and maintained that the Zimbabwean community remained largely “integrated” in Wallacedene. He advised them to stay put.
Ali Ahmed, who is living through his third bout of xenophobic violence in Wallacedene since arriving in 2005, said he and most of the other shopkeepers had bunked up with their countrymen in Bellville and Brackenfell on Wednesday night.