For­eign shop own­ers de­spair

Many stores re­main closed as traders fear for their lives

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - AMANDA MALIBA AND LESEGO MAK­GATHO | @Aman­daMal­iba | @Le­segoMak­gatho

SOME im­mi­grant shop own­ers have started pick­ing up the pieces af­ter their shops were looted in Soweto last month over al­le­ga­tions that they were sell­ing ex­pired goods.

Last week, how­ever, most stores re­mained closed as many traders still feared for their lives. White City, Soweto, ward coun­cil­lor Sa­bata Banda said com­mu­nity en­gage­ments were un­der way, and things were slowly fall­ing into place.

“We’re look­ing into the is­sue of com­pli­ance and re­spect­ing the law. All is calm for now. We are work­ing with the po­lice to en­sure and main­tain calm in the area,” said Banda, adding that man­ag­ing bor­ders and the in­flux of for­eign­ers were cru­cial to pre­vent­ing a re­cur­rence.

Man­de­frot De­salegn, 29, from Ethiopia, is hop­ing for bet­ter days as he tries to re­build his busi­ness, which has been run­ning for three years in Rockville, Soweto.

De­salegn said he left his war-rav­aged coun­try and sought refuge in a “free coun­try”.

His shop has been looted twice since he started trad­ing.

“They took all my stuff, yet they say it has ex­pired. No one came to check if re­ally my stock has ex­pired or is ‘fong kong’. This en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence has been very painful for me, es­pe­cially be­cause it is hap­pen­ing for the sec­ond time.

“I tried to go else­where, (away) from South Africa, but there is nowhere to go be­cause my pa­pers don’t al­low me to leave this coun­try,” said De­salegn.

The ag­grieved shop owner lamented how help­less and un­safe he felt de­spite the po­lice pres­ence in the area.

“When I came back to col­lect two fridges that were left here, I asked for help from the po­lice, and they said ‘no, pay us’. When I asked why I must pay them, whether it is fair, they said if I don’t like it, I must go back to my coun­try,” he added.

Mean­while, City of Joburg com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cial Vir­gil James said gen­er­ally the is­su­ing of li­cences was sub­ject to meet­ing cer­tain health and plan­ning re­quire­ments.

“We don’t look at the in­di­vid­ual, but the ap­pli­ca­tion can be ap­proved if it meets all the cri­te­ria. Health in­spec­tors do reg­u­lar checks in terms of the rel­e­vant by-laws re­gard­ing stor­age, clean­li­ness, prod­uct shelf life, etc.”

An­other shop­keeper, Steven Ale­mayhu, was less op­ti­mistic about re­open­ing his busi­ness which has been run­ning for five years. Ale­mayhu said he was ready to cut his losses and leave the coun­try.

“I don’t feel safe, and I’m scared for my life. If it (loot­ing) hap­pens again, we won’t be able to stop it, and that’s why I plan to leave the coun­try. Any space I get, I’m go­ing to move from here,” he said.

Ale­mayhu’s shop has also been robbed twice in the spo­radic loot­ing.

He said he felt the pain of poor South Africans.

“I’m not blam­ing the peo­ple. The govern­ment is not pro­vid­ing any­thing for them. There are no jobs, peo­ple are los­ing their jobs, there is noth­ing hap­pen­ing and every­one is com­plain­ing that ev­ery­thing is slow.

“Back in the day, things were safe but, right now, things have changed. We can’t even move freely be­cause you’ll be mugged any time,” he said.

ANC head of elec­tions Fik­ile Mbalula could not be reached for com­ment on agree­ments reached be­tween Soweto res­i­dents and for­eign shop­keep­ers at a re­cent com­mu­nity meet­ing.

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