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“Of course, their councillors must make time to deal with those concerns – but this time was called specifically to address the rumours.”
The first meeting, on Tuesday, was at Seven Fountains because that’s where Grahamstown businessman Tariq Hayat owns a farm.
It was there around midday on Thursday 22 October that 150 people gathered.
“They broke my gate,” said Hayat.
He wasn’t there – this was all being relayed to him by phone by terrified staff.
“They said they had got information from town that I had dead bodies in my house,” he told Grocott’s Mail.
Hayat instructed his employee to give keys for all the buildings on the property to three representatives of the community.
“They went to every room,” Hayat said. “Every storeroom, every cupboard.”
They found nothing to support their claims.
The crowd’s action, and Hayat’s response to it, were extremely significant.
In recent months, in Grahamstown, several bodies have been found and the police are investigating those murders.
Fuelled by gossip, and anxiety within communities, various versions of a rumour developed. Some of the looters explicitly referred to the rumour at the start of the mob action on Wednesday 21 October.
In a pamphlet responding to the rumours, the South African police said emphatically: “There are no serial killers in Grahamstown; There are no ‘body parts’ murders happening in Grahamstown; There has been no genital mutilation on any of the bodies found in Grahamstown; No foreign national is a suspect or has been arrested in connection with the bodies found. There is no link between foreign nationals in Grahamstown and the deaths being investigated.”
Hayat, like many other immigrant businesspeople in this town, has lived here for decades.
Originally from Pakistan, he has been here for 20 years and counts himself as a Grahamstown resident.
Others who fled their homes in fear of being targeted as “foreigners” come from countries across Africa and Asia.
In their public statement pleading for a resolution to the crisis, the wives of dis- placed business owners said their husbands had come from Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Residents associated with 300 businesses in Grahamstown East fled their homes after mobs looted the shops.
The looting began around 11.30am on Wednesday 21 October, soon after a protest by taxi drivers against poor roads ended.
It happened at the same time as a separate march by Rhodes University staff and students as part of a crosscampus national day of action against fee increases.
The actions proceeded at opposite ends of the town.
No violent or criminal acts were reported in connection with student protests against fee increases in Grahamstown.
Sporadic looting continued in Grahamstown East over the next few days, sometimes but not always accompanied by threats.
Many of the displaced residents have left to stay with friends and family in other towns. Around 500 are being housed in a safe zone in the area. Grahamstown leadership in the form of the AntiXenophobic Group set up in