Shop lootings recall xenophobic attacks for Alexandra locals

The army and police patrol the streets of Alexandra to try to disperse the mobs that attacked shacks and shops owned by foreign nationals. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The army and police patrol the streets of Alexandra to try to disperse the mobs that attacked shacks and shops owned by foreign nationals. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Community policing forum chair Moses Letsoalo blames the police for being unable to prevent the violence even though they were outnumbered by the mob.

A bespectacled Moses Letsoalo is listening to loud gospel music outside his two-roomed brick house in the grimy Third Avenue in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg.

He is in the company of two men; one sells sweets and cigarettes from a makeshift stall.

Three tuck shops belonging to foreign nationals in Third Avenue were looted last Friday night during postelection violence.

One of the tuck shops is next to his house and there is another a few houses away.

A lot of people use the street to get to London Road, where they catch taxis. There is a mass of shacks; some of them still bear ANC placards with President Jacob Zuma’s face on them.

Several portable toilets are lined up along the roadside. A foul smell permeates the air. The block of flats called Boikhutsong across the road is where the ward 145 councillor lives.

Letsoalo, the chairperson of the local community policing forum, was away when the foreign shopkeepers – from Somalia and Ethiopia – fled when their shops were looted.

He denounces the attacks but blames the police for being unable to prevent the violence, although they were outnumbered by the mob.

No charges laid
He said his Somali neighbour told him three armed men had stormed his shop and stolen R9 000. He said none of the shop owners had opened criminal cases. The three shop owners have now left Alexandra and it is not clear whether they will return, Letsoalo said.

Some residents reported seeing a crowd gathering near the dilapidated Madala hostel on Sixth Avenue on Sunday afternoon. They said the purpose of the meeting was unclear, but that police are scared to enter the hostel for fear of being attacked.

To some residents here, the attacks serve as a stark reminder of the xenophobic attacks in 2008.

The latest violence flared up after members of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Economic Freedom Fighters made allegations of vote-rigging in the township during the elections.

Residents say a box filled with ballot papers was discovered wedged between two shacks. One ballot box was found dumped near a school in ward 105.

The office used by the Independent Electoral Commission during the elections was torched. Sixth Avenue was barricaded with rocks and tyres.

About 100 protesters have been arrested since the violence started May 8 and were charged with public violence. They appeared at the Randburg magistrate’s court on Monday after the state deemed it too dangerous to conduct cases at the Wynberg magistrate’s court next to Alexandra. They were released on bail of between R300 and R500 and their case was postponed to June 26.

Another neighbour of foreign shop owners, Stephen Mabokela (53), said he was awoken on Friday night by people running away from the shops, carrying away items such as mealie meal, cooking oil, loaves of bread and soft drinks.

Mabokela is unemployed and says he spends most of his time chatting to people outside his shack. He attributes the attacks on foreigners to “discrimination” and says the looters were chased away by soldiers deployed in the township.

Martin Ledwaba has lived in the Boikhutsong block of flats, near the hostel, since 2002.

He recalls that the xenophobic incidents in 2008 started in almost the same way as last week’s unrest. “People from the hostel complained about electricity and went to the councillor’s house; then they looted the foreigners’ shops.”

Another resident, Timothy Modibane, offloads two crates of soft drinks from his bakkie and carries them into his shack from where he sells them. His small business was not attacked, even though it is behind one Somali-run tuck shop.

“I am disappointed because they do help the community; we don’t have to travel to the mall. But now that they have moved we will have to go to the mall.”

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