News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Thursday September 19th 2019

Bribery accusations and local demand for Somali spazas puts paid to 2008 agreement

Police inspect a Somali-owned shop in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, that closed its doors over the weekend of February 26 after receiving threats from local business owners. Photo: Nombulelo Damba/WCN

A 2008 agreement preventing new Somali-owned shops from opening in Khayelitsha was undermined by bribery and the demands of local residents, it emerged at a meeting called on Wednesday to find a solution to recent tensions between local business owners and Somali traders.

Recent, belated enforcement of the 2008 agreement reached between the Zanokhanyo Retailers Association and the Somali Retailers Association in the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks that year resulted in two Somali-owned shops being looted and at least 25 others being forcibly closed over the last two weeks.

Following this, a meeting to find a solution for new Somali-owned spaza shops was held yesterday at Lingelethu Community Centre.

The meeting was attended by Sibongile Mbotwe, special advisor to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Somali and local spaza shop owners, faith organisations and high ranking police officers.

Chairing the meeting, Reverend of International Ministers Association Templeton Mbekwa said there had been an outcry from local business owners who felt that the 2008 general agreement between Zanokhanyo and the Khayelitsha Somali Retailers Association had not been adhered to.

The 2008 agreement stated that from November 1, 2008, new spaza shop owners would only be allowed to trade if approved by both organisations.

But Mbekwa said the South African Police Service (SAPS) and City of Cape Town law enforcement agencies had not enforced the agreement.

“Some times you find that Somalis spaza shop owners are fighting amongst themselves for competition of business,” he said.

He said following a proliferation of Somali-owned spaza, local shop owners in Harare started investigating. Apparently one Somali trader said police and community members were being paid off so that he could open shop.

The Somali spaza shop owners had apparently told their local counter parts that they were “untouchable” said Mbekwa.

Complaints from the approximately 50 local shop owners were that there was a proliferation of new Somali traders and that local Sanco branches, ward councillors and police officers were being paid by Somalis to let them open shops.

Reggie Mthembu, who owns a spaza shop in Khayelitsha site C, said the Somali community comprised just a handful of residents in the area, they operated about 90% of the spaza shops there.

“We can’t compete with them. We start a spaza shop with a capital of R200 they open their spaza shop with a capitol of R200 000,” he said.

A uniformed police officer who identified himself as Warrant Officer Sosha agreed there were some police officers who were being paid by Somali traders.

He requested that a new list of old and new local and Somali spaza shops be compiled and made available to the two affected parties.

But Mbekwa said the proliferation of Somali traders was by request of residents who had told Sanco committee members they preferred Somali-owned shops to those owned by South Africans, and RDP house beneficiaries even invited Somali business owners in Bellville to rent their RDP houses and open their shop therein.

Somali Retailers Associations spokesperson Abdi Ahmed said every time tensions arose new government officials were sent in to broker a deal which was not adhered to.

Ahmed said the association wanted to find a solution that was implemented in “a fair and just manner”.

Speaking after the meeting, Sibongile Mbotwe said the local community should arrange a mass meeting to inform the residents about the challenges in question, find solutions and implement them.

“The solution that will come out of that meeting will be a solution that everyone will own because they will be part of that meeting,” said Mbotwe. – Peter Luhanga

Tags: Abdi Ahmed, Khayelitsha, Lingelethu Community Centre, Nathi Mthethwa, Reggie Mthembu, Sibongile Mbotwe, Somali Retailers Association, Templeton Mbekwa, Warrant Officer Sosha, xenophobic attacks, Zanokhanyo Retailers Association

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