Jun 2, 2011 12:21 AM
What started out as a drive to evict Somali and Pakistani businessmen from a township notorious for xenophobia has backfired spectacularly.
” ‘The same guys who want our bosses to leave, treat us badly’ “
Women residents from the Ramaphosa informal settlement east of Johannesburg have stood up to spaza shop owners who tried to order their foreign competitors out of the area.
In the early hours of yesterday, the shopkeepers, members of the Greater Gauteng Business Forum, had driven around the settlement inviting residents to join them in taking action against “Somali and Kulas [Pakistani]” businessmen.
Forum members complain that the foreign nationals are in South Africa illegally, do not pay taxes and sell expired goods at low prices.
Forum members marched down the main streets of Ramaphosa, ordering the foreigners to shut shop and leave. This despite a High Court order handed down last week prohibiting the intimidation of foreign nationals, and an instruction from the Reiger Park Police Station commander to stop their “illegal march”.
They chased away one Somali man and forced another to close his store. But at one of the main Somali-owned shops, they met with resistance: a large group of women, some carrying babies, demanded that their bosses be left alone.
Cynthia Mtikiki, who works in one of the shops, said their livelihoods would be in danger should the foreigners be chased away.
She shouted: “They give us jobs, but you are denying us this opportunity. If you want them to leave, then you must give us jobs. What will our children eat? Where will I get money to send them to school?”
Vinoliah Maluma, who works for a Somali businessmen, said the forum’s actions were prompted by nothing but “greed and jealousy”.
“The same guys who want our bosses to leave treat us badly, and they pay us R800 a month.
“But the Somalis pay us R2000 and they don’t bring their own people, they employ locals.”
Lucia Khumalo, a pensioner, said the Somali and Pakistani businessmen treated customers better.
“Even when [I am] short of R1, they give me the bread and tell me I can pay next time,” she said.
“When it is the middle of the month, they give me groceries and tell me I can pay them when I get my pension. They don’t even take my number or address, that is how much they trust us,” she said.
The Somali business owners said that despite the court order and the heavy police presence in the neighbourhood, they lived in fear.
Mohamed Antar said: “If the government is allowing us to do business and the residents are supporting us then these people [the forum] are just jealous.”
Since March, the forum has chased foreign businessmen from Ramaphosa and other areas, including Katlehong, Thokoza and Soweto.
More than 80 of its members have been arrested on charges of intimidation and holding an illegal public gathering.
Forum spokesman Johannes Ramaropene earlier told the crowd they wanted the businessmen to leave the area without violence, failing which “blood will be spilt”.