Somalians fearful of reprisal in SA

There was increased interest in the predominantly Somali section of Johannesburg's Mayfair suburb known as "Little Mogadishu" this week when news surfaced that Samantha Lewthwaite, who is suspected to have been involved in the Nairobi mall attack, had kept a Mayfair address during her stay in South Africa.

Lewthwaite, dubbed the "White Widow" by the media, allegedly lived in South Africa on a fake South African ID and has two residential addresses linked to her between November 2009 and May 2012.

Lewthwaite was married to one of the London suicide bombers, Germaine Lindsay, and lived with her children in South Africa. Lindsay, also known as Abdullah Shaheed Jamal, was a Jamaican-born Londoner and one of four militants who detonated bombs in the city on July 7 2005, killing 56 people and injuring over 700.

Read more:
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Kenyatta urges unity after attacks
Morgues in Nairobi prepare for an influx of bodies

Little Mogadishu residents expressed fear of a backlash both in Kenya and South Africa as a result of the siege, which left more than 70 people dead and still counting. Others expressed disbelief that Lewthwaite could have lived a few doors down from them.

But the address linked to her turned out to be a wheel and tyre fitment shop.

"As far as I know, that's a complete lie," said the middle-aged Sulega Dahir Hussein, a Somali national who lives in the area. "That's another story I can't even put in my mind because I could be targeted.

"They [the Islamist militants al-Shabab] are killing innocent people. What happened in Kenya we are sorry about it … Even talking about them I'm scared because I am a single mother of six children."

Hussein said Somalis in Kenya are already "being targeted by the police" and she feared that the sentiment could spread to South Africa.

Noor Hirsi, a personable Somali businessperson and self-described ANC member who has lived in South Africa for 12 years, said the Somali community in Mayfair is against al-Shabab and dismissed the suggestion that it could have harboured the movement's operatives.

"This is against African culture, so this is not something from the Somali community. They say their movement is religious but they don't represent the religion. This is not what Islam is or Somali culture is. To kill women, children and civilians is not our culture.

"In Somalia, the war is about resources and clan-based problems, it is not about religion. Somalis are Sufi people, who are tolerant to everyone."

Hirsi said there was talk of the "Islamicisation" of the community – a term he used cautiously to mean radical proselytising – but said this was mostly accusations made by "Indian people and the police".

Hirsi later said he would refer the Mail & Guardian to a man who had been questioned by police in 2011 about "terrorism". But after a lengthy discussion between the two of them, the man refused to speak to us, saying it was not he who had been questioned, but two others who had since fled to Port Elizabeth.

Hirsi also said Somalis are bracing themselves for a backlash in Kenya and South Africa, countries that have sizeable Somali business communities.  "Black South Africans and Indian people are already saying: 'Why are you killing people? We buy from you all the time'"

A youth leader, who preferred to remain anonymous, referred to a Somali proverb to encapsulate the local community's overwhelming feelings about al-Shabab: "If your hand is clean, you can clean the cloth; but if your hands are dirty, you can't clean anything.

"Al-Shabab is killing Muslim people. Even as they were attacking the mall, people were being killed in Somalia," he said, referring to a grenade explosion in Mogadishu's Baraka market on Saturday that killed two people and injured four.  

Ahmed Abdi of the Al-Bayaan Islamic Council would not speak on the record but provided a statement by Yusuf Patel of the United Alama Council of South Africa that described the Kenya mall siege as "the barbaric slaughter of human lives that can never be condoned under any kind of religious pretext" and the "spurious religious validation of such murder" as the "work of grossly ignorant zealots".

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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