Diepsloot residents deny claims of xenophobia

The inside of a looted shop. (Gallo)

The inside of a looted shop. (Gallo)

"This isn't xenophobia, people are just jealous of the businesses making money and want to steal. They don't hate foreigners, they are just criminals," Agnes Tshavengwa, Zimbabwean national and long-term resident of Diepsloot said.

Approximately 80 small-scale shops and informal retailers were looted following the killing of two Zimbabweans on Sunday, allegedly at the hands of a Somali shop owner.

Almost 50 people have since been arrested for public violence, housebreaking, and possession of unlicensed firearms and are expected to appear in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.

The Somali shopkeeper was also due to appear in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Tuesday on charges of murder and attempted murder.

“The Zimbabwean guys were playing music loudly outside the Somali guy’s shop. They had an argument and he shot them,” said Fungayi Makota, a nearby street vendor who witnessed the incident.

“That guy has had trouble at his shop before but I don’t know why he did what he did.”

While details remain sketchy as to the motives behind the killings, it is seen as the flashpoint for the violence that followed. The situation remained tense throughout Tuesday, with a heavy police presence in the township.

Broken glass from shop fronts and boxes litter the roads around the looted stores. On Tuesday, school children waded through the remains of shops, collecting the little that remained that could be salvaged.

The plunderers gained access through force, breaking down metal doors with crowbars and many shops were also torched after being looted.

One spaza shop, Easy Buy, was destroyed when a side wall was smashed open to gain access to the store. No foreign nationals were hurt during the looting, with many saying they were merely chased away from their shops.

While xenophobia was quickly suggested as the reason for the violence, this has been dismissed by government.

"Government has noted with concern so-called xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in townships around Gauteng," a statement released on Monday read.

"These acts of violence are pure criminal activities and those found guilty will face the full might of the law."

This drew criticism from anti-xenophobia civil society groups who claimed the state was not dealing with the issue.

"Many officials in our government also don't want to attribute this to xenophobia. But, in many cases its xenophobia disguised as crime – not vice versa."

However, Diepsloot residents lent credence to the government’s assertions and too felt the situation was being exploited by opportunistic criminals.

"It wasn't even just foreigners that were looting and destroying things," said Nomphumelelo Maphaha.

"South Africans were next to Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and others just stealing."

Maphaha, a South African Diepsloot resident since 2005, rents her garage to Ethiopian Misganaw Abide, who converted the space into a spaza shop in 2010.

Abide's spaza shop was looted and destroyed on Monday night, leaving both him and Maphaha without a steady income.

"We help each other here," Abide said.

"When people don't have money I give them credit. We live side by side as neighbours with no problems. Now I have nothing and don’t know how I can start again."

Abide’s despair is mirrored by Vincent Ngomani, a Mozambican salon owner whose shop was vandalised and stripped during violence on Monday.

“These guys were only interested in breaking my shop and stealing things,” said Ngomani. "We can’t call this xenophobia because they are not telling us to leave and go home. They just want our stuff."

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend. Read more from Nickolaus Bauer


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