Foreign shop owners despair
Many stores remain closed as traders fear for their lives
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.