Khayelitsha: ‘We beat them, we take their things by force’

It’s a warm Saturday afternoon when I arrive at the spaza shop a little way down Bangiso Drive in Site B, Khayelitsha. I am met by the owner of the property, a South African man, who tells me that the Ethiopian tenants who I had met there some time ago have left. Something about not paying their rent.  

Across the street a group of men are drinking in front of a family home. I walked over and begin to talk to them about the violence and looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto that has been unfolding in the news.

An older man speaks first. “Yah man, that thing happening there [Soweto] I feel it, but I’m not feeling well. We stay together, we are black together no matter what, we are all Africans at the end of the day and belong together”.

A younger man interjects, “It’s the youngsters who don’t understand that. They burnt a Somalian with tires here last week; he didn’t have money to buy members of the Italian gang tik. 

The people of South Africa need to learn to work together, we must take full example from the Somalians. Instead we just take out our frustrations to the Somalians and then we beat them, we take their things by force. 

“Instead we should just learn from them, but it’s not happening. If only we as South Africans could learn to take responsibility just like those guys, everything would be good, but we don’t want to take responsibility. 

“We just want to blame other people and then we end up taking their things by force, which is not right. Jealousy, I think that’s what triggers all this violence towards the Somalians, because these guys are making money. Seriously they are making good money those guys.”

The men gesture up the road to where a man is welding burglar bars together on the sidewalk. “That guy is South African, he won’t have problems. If someone comes and takes something from that guy we are going to chase him and stop him. But if he goes to the (Somali) shop and takes something, we all going to go there and take something also.”

I ask them why? “Because they are foreigners.”

Somalians are ‘targets’
A lady leans out of a window and briefly joins the conversation. “Ethiopians are nicer than Somalians. This shop [across the road] is very busy. From this [shop owner] you take on credit, if you short then he can give you something and you pay later. So he’s one of us. If something happens we will defend that guy.” 


The younger man again says: “We as the youngsters don’t understand that – only the older people will defend that guy. The youngsters will go there and make violence.” 

A Somali spaza owner up the road calls me over as I try to take a few photographs outside his shop. He is nervous and doesn’t want me taking pictures, and definitely not his picture. He’s worried there may be reprisals, and although he agrees to talk to me, he won’t give me his real name. 

He has been living in South Africa for twelve years. He shows me three stab wounds he received during different robberies. 

“As Somalians working here you are a target, twenty four hours. At night you don’t sleep, during the day it’s still not nice. If you want to leave the shop you can’t go alone, they will rob you. You don’t have any place to run; you come from Somalia, you can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything. 

“I’m just looking for bread. I don’t have papers. I can’t go anywhere, I’m still an asylum seeker. I can’t move from here. There are a lot of problems I have here. All of us have the same problems.”

South Africa is ‘not right’
In Bangiso Drive there are a number of spaza shops. All the Somali and Ethiopian shops operate from behind closed doors, through openings in burglar bars. Almost every one of the South African-owned shops have open access. 

A bit further down the road, I speak to another shop owner, a Somali man who talks to me from behind a security gate.

“A customer asked me if I had been watching what was happening in Gauteng. I said no, but I had been watching. Things are very bad here. You can’t go down the road to visit your friend at another shop – you will be robbed and maybe beaten. 

“If you go to police to report anything they will tell you they won’t open a case because you are a foreigner, and if they do, then they will be killed.” 

I ask him who will kill them, and he replies: “Some police”.

“I was shot during a robbery,” he shows me where the bullet went in and out, and the form from the Khayelitsha clinic where he was treated. 

“They all carry guns. If I could get a chance I would move form here. But, just like all the fingers on my hand are different, not everyone in the community is the same.”

Joseph Muhammad (not his real name) rents a shop in Town 2 in Khayelitsha. Muhammad says that he has already been robbed twice this year. 

“The problem is the skollies. They all have guns. If they get arrested they are out after two months. 

“It’s not like that in other countries. I want to leave this country. It’s better for me. I don’t like it here, it’s always robbing. South Africa is not right. I’ve had an interview with the UN. I’m waiting for their call.”

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

David Harrison
David Harrison is the chief executive of the DG Murray Trust. He is a founder of the Health Systems Trust, has a master’s in public policy, and previously headed HIV-prevention programme loveLife
Advertising

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday