'We are relying on the KZN govt for protection"

Foreign shop owners given ultimatum to close shops in Durban

'We are relying on the KZN government for protection' - foreign shop owners following ultimatum

17 May 2018

Foreign shop owners in suburbs north of Durban have said they will rely on the KwaZulu-Natal government for protection should local businessmen attack their shops on Thursday.

The foreign nationals, mostly Somalis, received letters from the North Region Business Association last week telling them to shut down their businesses in Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu by Thursday.

"We have no security measures in place but we're relying on government for protection," Jamal Mohamed told News24 on Wednesday night.

Mohamed spoke on behalf of Somali shop owners operating in the three townships.

"The government, and the premier [Willies Mchunu] are aware [of the matter]. We will wait and see if they let this violence and crime take place on their watch," said Mohamed.

Mohamed said high-ranking police officials from the area were also aware of the "threat".

Support from the community

"The premier knows who gave the letter to the shops. So, if anything happens to us then that would mean the government did not want to protect us, that I believe," he said.

Even though Mohamed explained that he was not certain about what to expect on Thursday, he said: "We're pleading with provincial government to provide us with protection by deploying SAPS in the area in case the attack is carried out tomorrow [Thursday]."

He said foreign business owners had different views on closing their shops after the ultimatum they got from local businessmen.

"Everyone has different opinions. Some have already closed their business, and some would hopefully be operating tomorrow. As much as I know, we won't close our businesses just like that," Mohamed said.

He said there were many community members who were against the association's ultimatum.

"There's a lot of them who told us that they need us in the community. They even promised us that nothing would happen to our property. They promised to protect our property, but that can't be a guarantee for our lives," he said.

Security measures in place, say police

Earlier on Wednesday KwaZulu-Natal police said they were on high alert as the "deadline" for foreign shop owners to shut down their unlicensed businesses loomed.

They said they had beefed up security to try and prevent a recurrence of xenophobic attacks in the area.

"Security measures are in place in all the affected areas. Police are continuing with constant patrols in all identified areas," said Captain Nqobile Gwala.

A resolution was taken at a meeting in KwaMashu on Tuesday night that unlicensed spaza shops and small businesses in the area would have to register their businesses or face being shut down.

The meeting was attended by Premier Willies Mchunu, the association and foreign business owners.

The association on Tuesday told News24 that it was not optimistic about resolutions taken to address the issue of unregulated spaza shops and small businesses.

Too many spaza shops

Association head Mlungisi Mncube said that while there had been a meeting with the premier's office, matters were still complex. He insisted that the association's motives were not xenophobic.

Mncube said the main issue was that too many businesses and spaza shops were popping up in the same area.

"In a way, someone has to close. As it is, the situation is untenable. You will go on a street and see three shops, one after another. Where are we going to get customers?" he asked.

Spokesperson for Mchunu, Thami Ngidi, said unlicensed businesses would now be closed.

"A process will start to register them properly. There is a process of regularising that will take place," he said.

He concurred that there was a "mushrooming of too many spaza shops in one area".

Follow-up meeting

In May 2017, foreign national shopkeepers were targeted by KwaMashu locals.

At the time social media posts, claiming that foreign nationals were behind the abductions of young children, appeared to have spurred on the locals to attack foreigners.

In January 2015, a foreign business owner was shot dead in Nhlungwane, Inanda.

In December 2014, there were two petrol bomb attacks on shipping containers from which Somali nationals operated their businesses, in KwaMashu's C section.

A follow-up meeting with all relevant stakeholders has been scheduled for May 24, Ngidi said.