June 01, 2009 Edition 1
Francis Hweshe – Cape Argus
TENSION is brewing in townships over foreign-owned shops, with one local businessman threatening violence, while another slammed government for causing the conflict.
And in the hope of neutralising what they fear is mounting hostility to foreigners from elsewhere in Africa, Anti-Eviction campaign activists in Guguletu have launched a dialogue with local businesses.
They met with local businesses at a church yesterday to discuss the issue.
Local business owners who spoke to the Cape Argus – most on condition of anonymity – expressed resentment about Africans from elsewhere on the continent doing business in their community.One said: “White people and Muslim people are using poor Africans (foreign nationals) to run their businesses.”
Asked if he could substantiate such claims, he said: “We just know that.”
“There will be blood,” said another businessman, claiming that Somali business owners flourished because they got a lot of support from the local Muslim community.
“Christianity has let us down,” this man said. “Most of us are Christians, but we are not getting help from our Christian brothers.”
Grocery shop owner Carol Malindi complained that foreign business owners put low mark-up prices on their goods, adding: “There are other people behind their success.”
Foreigners should move out, she said.
Some claimed, among other things, that the government was subsidising foreign nationals, “who come here with nothing, and the next thing they are successful”.
“We acknowledge and welcome our brothers who come from war-torn countries,” another said, “but our government is not empowering us. The government should subsidise us.”
Some conceded that they were venting their frustrations about poor service delivery on foreigners.
But, said one, “if they (foreigners) come from war-torn countries, we should have camps in this country”.
He added: “If they are good at running businesses, why are they not running them in their own countries?”
Anti-Eviction Campaign spokesman Mcedisi Twalo said the meeting was called to find ways of avoiding a recurrence of last year’s violent attacks that displaced an estimated 20 000 foreigners in the province.
Twalo said: “We are saying there should be no blood, and no conflict.”
The intention was to have a meeting to allow local business people to air their grievances without resorting to violence. Similar meetings were held in Samora Machel and Masiphumelele recently.
“The huge levels of unemployment in our townships are not caused by foreigners, but by the government’s anti-poor economic policies,” Twalo said.
“The destruction of local businesses is not caused by foreigners’ spaza shops, but by big corporations and their friends in government who subsidise huge malls like Guguletu Square,” he alleged.
But even holding a meeting on the troubling issue of xenophobia turned out to be more difficult than the organisers had hoped, when the church that said it was willing to host the event changed its mind at the last minute.
Twalo confirmed that he had asked several churches in the area to host yesterday’s meeting, but they had refused.
He claimed that Qababazi Church, the only one to agree, turned down his request at the last minute.
The few disgruntled South African business owners who had gathered – in large part to express their objections to foreign businesses in the township – ended up having their meeting at the gate of the church, rather than inside. This was the only one of several churches approached by activists willing to consider hosting the meeting.
A second meeting is to be held on Wednesday. .
Police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk said last night that police were monitoring the area closely. More personnel had been deployed, including the intelligence service, which was hoping to get a better picture of the situation.