/ 5 September 2008

Nafcoc calls for Somali purge

Nafcoc in the Western Cape has sent letters to Somali traders who have returned to Khayelitsha, warning them to close their shops or face violence.

The National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) in the Western Cape has sent letters to about 200 Somali traders who have returned to the township of Khayelitsha, warning them to close their shops or face physical violence.

The Mail & Guardian has seen the letters, sent by a group of Khayelitsha traders belonging to Nafcoc and operating as the Zanokhanyo Retailers Association.

The traders tell Somali shopkeepers to close their shops by September 21 or they will ‘resolve to much higher actions that will include physically fighting” for their rights.

Lawrence Mvundla, Nafcoc vice-president, insisted the letter ‘has nothing to do with Nafcoc nationally. It’s a local campaign and we are not part of anybody evicting people from the townships.”

Saying that Nafcoc discouraged xenophobia, Mavundla said the organisation would ‘talk to these people about what they’re doing in the name of Nafcoc”.

The Somalis said that children had been used to deliver the letters to them. But Nafcoc’s Western Cape secretary, Mandise Njoli, said that the Somalis ‘fight civil wars in their own countries and then come here and take away our livelihood. Maybe we should start a civil war so that they will leave our communities.”

He added that the Somali traders ‘are Arabs and they’re in our country illegally. Why can’t they be kept in refugee camps?

‘We’re all members of Nafcoc and we are dying here,
my sister. Our children are hungry. These people work for two cents and when we complain about the unfair advantage, then we’re called xenophobic,” Njoli said.

‘We can’t even do business with these people because today he calls himself Abdul and tomorrow he is Muhamed. During the day Shoprite takes our business and during the night, it’s the foreigners.

‘The Somalis are Arabs and Muslims and those countries have lots of money and they’re helping their countrymen. Our own country and democracy, which we paid so dearly for, does nothing to help us.”

Somali traders were reintegrated into Khayelitsha in the wake of xenophobic upheavals in May, after the Western Cape government promised foreign nationals that it was safe for them to go back.

In response to the new threats some are leaving the township and trying to regain access to the three remaining refugee camps in Cape Town.

‘They are going to kill us and they’re even distributing letters threatening to do so,” Somali businessman Muhamed Ali Omar told the M&G.

Omar, a legal refugee who has been in South Africa for seven years, ran four shops in Khayelitsha before the xenophobic violence.

Having lost all his shops and stock and fled with his three children and wife to the Soetwater refugee camp, he moved back to Khayelitsha only last week.

Xenophobic attacks displaced about 20 000 foreign nationals in the Western Cape. About 1 400 remain in camps in Cape Town resisting reintegration because they say they fear for their lives.

Omar said that he had moved back out of the township with his family after receiving the Nafcoc letter on Wednesday. ‘I begged the people at the Blue Water camp to allow us back. You South Africans hate us and the authorities don’t want to see and acknowledge this,” he said.

On Thursday morning he and 50 other Somali traders gathered at the Harare police station in Khayelitsha to demand police protection. ‘Nobody knows what to do,” he said. ‘We’re completely unsafe.”

Foreign immigrants have long accused organised black business of being behind xenophobic attacks in South Africa over the past two years.

In 2006 an estimated 60 Somali businessmen were killed in attacks across the Cape Peninsula. Local businessmen from Masipumelelu, outside Fish Hoek, confirmed to the M&G that the attacks started after local traders and taxi drivers met to discuss the influx of foreign traders.

Describing the letter as ‘intolerable”, Western Cape Premier Lynne Brown also accused Nafcoc members of threatening provincial government staff.

‘Since 2006 allegations have been made that Nafcoc and the business community is involved in fuelling tensions between locals and foreign nationals,” Brown said. ‘Government has shown support to the internally displaced people and that’s creating tension.”

‘But I will not tolerate these threats made against foreign nationals. I will take a briefing from the police immediately and try to resolve this matter.”

Brown added: ‘The staff from the province complained that they feel very threatened by businessmen in the townships. Nafcoc have threatened some of our staff and I will get to the bottom of this.”

Brown said the province was employing 70 mediators to help communities reintegrate.

‘I will ask to be briefed where these mediators were when these letters were distributed.”

Cape Town mayor Helen Zille said the city will ‘take action immediately” against those distributing the letter. ‘We’ve heard that Somalis are setting up their shops in front of local traders — it’s complicated, but we have to deal with this urgently,” she said.

Sydwell Citwa, chairperson of Zanokhanyo Retailers, who signed the letter, said that businessmen in Khayelitsha wanted Somali shops to be closed ‘while they’re working out a solution”.

‘While we’re talking to them, we want them to stop operating. Our problem is simple: We are hungry. We are angry. And the Somalis are undercutting us.

‘These people come into the country with nothing and the next minute they have stocked shops and fridges. We’ve done our research and we know that the Muslim Judicial Council [MJC] is helping them because they’re Muslim.

‘We also want help from our government because we gave them power. We are the ones who fought for freedom and democracy and now these Somalis are here eating our democracy,” Citwa said.

MJC deputy chairperson Sheg Achmat Sedick denied that the MJC only helped Muslims. ‘We’ve given help and assistance to all victims of xenophobic attacks. When the city council didn’t want to open their civic centres, we opened the mosques to everybody. The food parcels have gone to everybody.”