‘COPS TOLD US TO LOOT’

Po­lice of­fi­cers al­legedly watched and, in some cases, en­cour­aged Soweto res­i­dents to clear out for­eign-owned shops

CityPress - - Front Page - KHADIJA PA­TEL, XOLANI MBAN­JWA, ZINHLE MAPUMULO and SIPHO MA­SONDO

For­eign shop own­ers, loot­ers and wit­nesses to the loot­ing this week in Gaut­eng have de­scribed how po­lice stole goods and helped oth­ers raid the shops dur­ing the worst at­tacks on for­eign­ers South Africa has seen in seven years.

An es­ti­mated 120 for­eign-owned or for­eign-run shops were looted in Soweto and nearby Kag­iso this week. For­eign­ers have de­scribed how some po­lice of­fi­cers told them to “go back to where you come from”, de­manded bribes to do their jobs and helped them­selves to goods on the shelves, in­clud­ing air­time and cooldrinks.

Wide­spread re­ports of crim­i­nal and xeno­pho­bic be­hav­iour by some po­lice of­fi­cers tasked with stop­ping the loot­ing in Soweto fly in the face of state­ments made by Gaut­eng po­lice com­mis­sioner Joel Moth­iba and Com­mu­nity Safety MEC Siza­kele Nkosi-Malobane that what took place in Soweto dur­ing the course of the week was “crim­i­nal and not xeno­pho­bic”.

While loot­ing was con­tin­u­ing in Soweto on Thurs­day, Moth­iba told a press con­fer­ence that the sit­u­a­tion was “un­der con­trol”.

Yes­ter­day, 10 young Soweto res­i­dents in dif­fer­ent parts of the town­ship, who ad­mit­ted to tak­ing part in the loot­ing, told City Press that the po­lice had helped them do it.

Zondi res­i­dents Charlie Ma­sondo and Tshepo Ra­di­a­peng said they watched as po­lice in­structed loot­ers to queue out­side a for­eign-owned shop and al­lowed four of them in at a time to pre­vent a stam­pede.

“I have never seen some­thing like cops help­ing peo­ple to steal,” said Ra­di­a­peng. Ma­sondo said he was shocked. “I was ex­pect­ing the cops to stop the loot­ers from steal­ing, but they al­lowed and or­gan­ised them to do it. All they kept on say­ing was that peo­ple should not vandalise the shops,” he said.

A group of young peo­ple in Zola North re­counted how they looted the Sea Point gen­eral dealer in their neigh­bour­hood.

“We took ev­ery­thing. This was a fully fledged shop. There was ev­ery­thing here. There were six dou­ble-door fridges used for soft drinks. We took ev­ery­thing.” One said the po­lice looked on while they looted. “They were ac­tu­ally help­ing us. They were driv­ing a Nis­san 1400 bakkie. They ac­tu­ally came back to look for what might have re­mained on Fri­day.”

One of the other young men, who de­clined to be named, showed City Press one of fridges they had looted. It has al­ready been sold to a new owner.

Next to Sea Point, there is a shop owned by a South African. It was not plun­dered. All for­eign-owned tuck shops in Zola North were closed this week.

For­eign shop own­ers to whom City Press spoke on Fri­day told of how, in some cases, po­lice of­fi­cers re­fused to pro­tect their shops, and in­stead helped those who were loot­ing.

So­mali shop owner Is­mail Adam (29), who ran a shop in Slovoville, Soweto, said he and his brother hid in the toi­let after loot­ers struck at about 5pm on Wed­nes­day. The po­lice ar­rived later.

“I saw ma­mas come and the po­lice gave them bread. I asked them why they gave away this bread [be­cause it] is my money. They told me: ‘You are noth­ing, brother. Keep quiet – if you talk too much, I’ll give your stock away, all of it,’” said Adam.

“Even other po­lice, I saw them come in the shops. They took Grandpa headache pow­der and air­time – ev­ery­thing. When we left, they said: ‘My friend, come here. Give us money for cool drink.’ I said I didn’t have money. They told me that if I didn’t give them money, they would leave. I gave him R200.

“There were five po­lice cars. When the po­lice were there, peo­ple were steal­ing. Po­lice were stand­ing there watch­ing.”

Shukri Ab­dul­lahi (42), a shop­keeper in Mead­ow­lands, Soweto, said loot­ers as­saulted her at the en­trance to her shop in front of the po­lice, who did noth­ing.

“When I asked for as­sis­tance, the po­lice said I can go back to where I come from. There were a lot of peo­ple and they beat me up – the po­lice did noth­ing.”

Fa­tima Hasan (27), whose brothers ran a shop in Slovoville, which was looted on Wed­nes­day night, went to help them the next morn­ing.

“I fell and hurt my leg be­cause I ended up run­ning away. The po­lice abuse us be­cause we are for­eign­ers, they tell us to go away. They tell me: ‘You come here to make money in our South Africa.’ This is the fifth time this is hap­pen­ing to me, what can we do now? Even when we go to the clinic, some­times they tell us to go back to our coun­try.”

At an ur­gent meet­ing be­tween Gaut­eng Premier David Makhura and for­eign shop own­ers, which was at­tended by Gaut­eng Trans­port MEC Is­mail Vadi, in May­fair, Jo­han­nes­burg, yes­ter­day, Makhura re­it­er­ated the gov­ern­ment line that this week’s ac­tion was “crim­i­nal and not xeno­pho­bic”.

He also as­sured shop own­ers that gov­ern­ment and the po­lice would do all they could to pro­tect them and stop the an­ar­chy.

“The in­dis­crim­i­nate loot­ing in the shops is some­thing we have con­demned. We have told the po­lice to find the loot­ers, and al­ready 160 peo­ple have been ar­rested,” Makhura said. “What we saw in Soweto was not xeno­pho­bia, but crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. And crime must be dealt with as crime be­cause crime has no colour, class or gen­der.”

This week, a po­lice of­fi­cer was filmed ap­par­ently par­tic­i­pat­ing in loot­ing in Dob­sonville, Soweto.

City Press has learnt that a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary task team, made up of the po­lice’s tac­ti­cal re­sponse team, pub­lic or­der polic­ing units, de­tec­tives, crime in­tel­li­gence and vis­i­ble polic­ing units has been es­tab­lished to find the in­sti­ga­tors be­hind the un­rest

Po­lice spokesper­son Solomon Mak­gale said on Fri­day night that a 13-month-old baby was tram­pled to death by loot­ers in Kag­iso.

“While peo­ple were loot­ing one spaza shop, po­lice ar­rived. The loot­ers scat­tered. As they fled, some ran into a woman in her early 20s car­ry­ing a baby. In that com­mo­tion, the baby fell and was tram­pled by the flee­ing mob. A case of mur­der is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Kag­iso de­tec­tives,” he said.

In re­sponse to al­le­ga­tions of po­lice col­lu­sion in the loot­ing, Mak­gale said they knew of one case and had “taken the ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion in re­sponse”.

“There is ab­so­lutely noth­ing of this sort that has been brought to our at­ten­tion. If there is ev­i­dence to cor­rob­o­rate th­ese al­le­ga­tions, then we will cer­tainly look into them and take ac­tion.”

Mak­gale said it was a pity that City Press de­cided to re­port a story con­tain­ing “wild al­le­ga­tions” with “no shred of ev­i­dence”.

“Just be­cause one po­lice of­fi­cer was shown on video loot­ing, it does not mean ev­ery po­lice of­fi­cer who was out there was in­volved. If this story is pub­lished, then it will go down as the worst form of jour­nal­ism I have ever seen,” he said.

Mean­while, SA Spaza & Tuck­shop As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Rose Nkosi, whose or­gan­i­sa­tion rep­re­sents more than 3 000 stores around the coun­try, said gov­ern­ment should use the evic­tion of for­eign­ers from Soweto as an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate jobs for lo­cal un­em­ployed youth.

“Th­ese peo­ple are given spa­ces, but lo­cals don’t have good places to sell. How do for­eign­ers get good spots? That’s my first ques­tion, be­cause we have of­fi­cials at the bor­der gates. How are th­ese peo­ple com­ing in just like this?” she said at the home of 14-year-old Mthetheleli Ma­hori, whose death on Mon­day sparked the loot­ing.

“We don’t want them back here, and the com­mu­nity has spo­ken. Rather let them go back to their coun­tries and leave our coun­try with free­dom.”

Nkosi in­sisted that the spaza shops will re­open, “but only South Africans should run them”.

Mean­while, City Press saw three el­derly women beg­ging po­lice to al­low them to buy bread for R9 as heav­ily armed po­lice guarded a shop in Diep­kloof.

One of the women, Vic­to­ria Mbambo, said she could not af­ford food from big re­tail shops be­cause spazas sold cheaper goods.

“I know I will go hun­gry. Many oth­ers will go hun­gry. Peo­ple do not think about to­mor­row, they just think of to­day and come next week, they will be hun­gry and there won’t be any­body to give you food on credit like th­ese peo­ple have been do­ing for years. That’s how many of us sur­vive. What are we go­ing to do now?”

From page 1

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

PATH OF PLUN­DER Two women make off with goods stolen from a lo­cal spaza shop dur­ing the vi­o­lence in Soweto this week

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