News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Monday May 21st 2018

Somalians ordered to close shops in Khayelitsha

A letter warning Somalians owning shops to close down their businesses before September 14 has been circulating in Khayelitsha, raising fears of a second round of xenophobic attacks. The attacks against foreigners which flared up in the Cape in May this year were also largely preceded by similar such notices and it comes in the midst of the City’s drive to relocate and reintegrate refugees and foreign nationals displaced by those attacks.

The letter dated 22 August 2008 carries the letterhead of the Zanokhanyo Retailers Association, purportedly “under the banner of NAFCOC (National African Federated Chamber of Commerce) Khayelitsha” and warns “All Foreign Shop Owners (somalians) (sic)” that they have between August 25 and September 14 to close their shops “until further notice”.

“The business, political and community leadership of Khayelitsha is currently engaging with each other in finding a solution for the influx of your shops into our communities,” states the letter. Signed by S. Citwa “chairperson”, it “orders” foreigners to close their shops as “all matter regarding your existence in our communities are being discussed (sic)”.

As a result of the letter, the UCT Law Clinic drafted a letter to Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula and provincial police commissioner Mzwandile Petros requesting an investigation into the “xenophobic threat”.

In the letter, director of the law clinic’s Refugee Rights Project Fatima Khan said it was the law clinic’s legal opinion that the Zanokhanya letter was in violation of the Intimidation Act of 1982 which prohibits giving people reason to fear for their safety, the safety of their property or livelihood. Khan requested that the xenophobic threat be noted by the police and safety and security offices. “It is indeed our hope and expectation that with your intervention this matter will be resolved and that such threats will be retracted,” she wrote.

In the meantime Somalian shop owners have started closing their shops in the area, fearing they would be looted or killed if they did not do so by September 14, and some have moved in with friends in order to group together for safety. A number of Somalians interviewed in Khayelitsha said they didn’t know who to turn to for help as police allegedly told them they must confront Zanokhanyo and solve the matter themselves. Shop owner Mohamed Adan-Osman Shedith said he was worried the letter may herald a second round of xenophobic attacks.

Zanokhanyo chairperson Sidwell Citwa, who signed the letter, said Somalians who had not closed their shops by the stated deadline could not hold South African owned Khayelitsha businesses accountable if they were attacked. “This is being done for their own safety,” Citwa said. However, he said they had no intention of attacking Somalians but wished to sit with them and negotiate a way forward. “We are doing this for the safety of them (Somalians) because they come and blame us when they have problems with the community,” he said.

Meantime, Khayelitsha’s NAFCOC chairperson Zet Mhlutshwa said the move to close the shops was brought about because many businesses in the area had collapsed due to competition with “unregistered businesses”. “If the Somalis are creative and can own businesses why cannot they do that in their own country?” Mhlutshwa asked.

Mhlutshwa said if local business owners were seen as being jealous of Somalian’s success, “it does not matter because here we are at home”. “We want the government to explain to us how long would the Somalis stay in this country.”

Western Cape communications officer in the Department of the Premier, Palesa Morudu, said they were aware of the existence of the letter, were “taking it seriously” and had logged it with the Joint Operations Centre – which included the City and the SAPS – which was to meet and discuss the matter. Morudu said the police had been made aware of the letter and were on the alert of any outbreak of xenophobic violence.

Safety and security ministry spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said a similar letter was posted to shops in Garankuwa recently although nothing came of it. However, Mulaudzi said the ministry did not want to take such threats in Khayelitsha lightly as it was important “if there is such a threat that measures be taken to safeguard our brothers from Somalia”. He said any xenophobic action or attacks would “meet with the full might of the law” and anyone carrying out such attacks “would be dealt with severely”.

Western Cape police spokesperson Andre Traut said the SAPS was aware of the letters and two cases of intimidation had been registered “thus far” in Khayelitsha and were being investigated. Traut said the situation was being closely monitored and “resources are being deployed to deal with any occurrence whatsoever”.

“Foreign nationals can expect exactly the same protection as any local member of the community. SAPS will not tolerate lawlessness and perpetrators can expect harsh measures of policing,” he said.

* Reporting by Sandiso Phaliso and Steve Kretzmann. Published in the Cape Argus, 05 September 2008.

Tags: refugees xenophobia

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