A quarter of South Africans are unemployed, with black South Africans much harder hit than the country’s other ethnic groups in spite of two decades of the ruling ANC’s Black Economic Empowerment effort. In shack cities like Diepsloot, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, resentment of relatively successful immigrants from Pakistan and Somalia is once again boiling over into riots and looting reminiscent of the massive clashes that shook the country in 2008.
Under the sun, the Diepsloot attacks on foreign-owned stores are somewhat underwhelming. Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Mozambican and even Somali and Pakistani migrants walk and mingle freely on JB Marks Street where the violence erupted after a Somali national allegedly killed two men on Sunday evening. There are no mobs hunting down foreigners. No tires are being burned. Police patrol the streets, but spent rubber bullet shells squashed into the dirt streets are the only evidence of attempts to quell violence.
“At night it’s chaos,” is a common refrain. During the day the only evidence that many of the stores (SAPS[national police]won’t provide the exact number but over 100 complaints have been laid with police in areas across the province) owned mainly by Somalis, Ethiopians and Pakistanis have been looted and vandalised since Sunday evening, is the padlocked spaza shops [home-based convenience stores] dotted throughout the township. You can see a few of the stores have been gutted, their windows or doors broken, revealing an emptiness filled only by debris on the floor.
“That will be hard,” says an Extension 6 resident when asked how one can speak to the looters. “They’re hiding, scared of being arrested,” respond most of those asked. Unlike protestors who want to be heard, the looters of Diepsloot spend their days inside. When a source says he knows where some of the stolen stock has been taken and some of the thieves are staying, he says it’s too dangerous to visit without police protection.
Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said 45 suspects were arrested on Monday evening – three for housebreaking and theft, 38 for public violence, and 4 for illegal possession of firearms. The four suspects with unlicensed guns were Pakistani nationals, noted Dlamini. The arrests were in addition to the nine suspects taken into custody for public violence and one for the shootings on Sunday night. Bishar Isaack, 39, appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on two charges of murder on Tuesday and the case was postponed until 4 June.
Speaking to Eyewitness News on Tuesday, Diepsloot councillor Abraham Mabuke described his ward as being in a state of “anarchy” and called for intervention from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The councillor was reportedly trying to meet with officials from the Somali, Ethiopian and Pakistani embassies to work on solving the situation.
Dlamini said it’s not necessary to send in the army as the [national police]have sent extra public order policing staff to Diepsloot and have the situation under control.
Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane condemned the looting and praised police for their response. “These are clear acts of opportunistic crimes on a vulnerable group of Gauteng residents by a minority of hooligans living in our communities,” said the premier in a statement. “We call upon all our people across the province to refrain from taking part in attacks that we have seem in areas such Sedibeng and Diepsloot. We must all ensure that the repeat of 2008 does not happen… Let us unite against any form of violence.”
The ANC, DA and Cope [political parties]also condemned the attacks, which have followed similar looting incidents in the Vaal triangle[south of Johanesburg]. The [opposition Inkatha Freedom Party]in Gauteng used its rare chance to be heard to send a rather poetic message. IFP provincial chairperson Nhlanhla Msimango expressed opposition to the violence before adding: “While the IFP-GP acknowledges that there are foreign nationals that have not brought good things to South Africa [l]ocal communities with problems relating to foreign nationals need to remember the words of a Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius that: ‘How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.’ Let us learn to communicate our anger and resolve our differences rather than be violent.”
Msimango hit topic: many of the residents in Diepsloot expressed frustration with foreigners. The sentiment was echoed by the Greater Gauteng Business Forum’s Tshwane chairman, Mpane Baloyi, on Tuesday. “Our government should stop issuing asylum to these people [foreigners]; they should rather place them in camps. We don’t want them on our streets, not because we hate them, but due to economic space. You have to understand unemployment is very high in South Africa,” he told Eyewitness News.
Standing in the sun on JB Marks Street, Martiens Mahalangu, a resident of Extension 6, curses at the government for failing to uphold the law. Walking home with his baby daughter, he says the people don’t have a problem with foreigners but many people in Diepsloot see them come into South Africa and get employed in unskilled positions, willing to go without the pay and conditions afforded by the labour laws. “We need doctors and engineers, not painters and labourers,” he says. Diepsloot’s Extension 1, near where the problem started, is a shack settlement and mostly South Africans stay there, says Mahalangu. People see foreign-owned businesses and foreigners staying in RDP [ANC-sponsored public housing] and bond houses and their frustration grows.
Mahalangu blames the ANC, which he says has had its chance and failed to uphold the law or improve service delivery in the area. He leaves to walk home with his daughter, passing a number of foreigners on the street. It doesn’t even seem right to call them foreigners. On the bustling JB Marks Street, they’re just the residents of Diepsloot walking, standing or working.
Police plan to patrol the area overnight, but before leaving a source calls. Watch out tonight, he says, the gangs are talking about burning the Somali stores so that they can’t return.
Greg Nicolson , The Daily Maverick
04 Jun 2013