African Migrants taste South Africa’s Xenophobia
By Hassan Isilow
CAPETOWN-Last year, at around this time, I was given an assignment by an editor to cover stories related to Xenophobia in the Western Cape. It wasn’t an easy task. The assignment involved roaming some of South Africa’s most dangerous Townships. Inside the Townships, I discovered the level of fear was rising sharply among foreign nationals. My first sight was that of a Somali woman clutching her two year old daughter. Anab looked scared as she stood next to her belongings outside her husband’s closed shop in Samora Machel informal settlement a few kilometers from Cape Town. “My husband’s shop has been forcefully closed by local business owners -who accuse us of selling goods cheaper than their shops” She said tearfully. Anab’s belongings are heaped in the dirt beside a bare cement slab and a pile of torn iron sheets.
She tells me Local business owners had warned Somali’s to leave the Township but when they resisted, a mob of youth activists went into their shop and threw out their merchandise in the dirt.
“Some of our valued merchandise such as airtime and cigarettes were stolen by the unruly mob of youth activists hired by the local businesses owners to evict us from their townships. I’m happy we are leaving Samora Machel alive and unharmed,” the 23-year old mother of two explained
There is bad blood between rural community traders and the Somali’s businessmen. The local traders accuse the Somali investors of stealing their businesses by selling goods at low prices. Many Somali owned businesses have been closed in some Black townships in the Western Cape. But the anti Eviction Campaign (AEC), a community group working against the forceful eviction of foreign traders in Townships says the situation is under control.
Mncedisi Twalo, coordinator of the AEC says there are no xenophobic tensions in the Townships “I don’t know where you pick up your information” Twalo attempts to argue against my findings, but I give him details regarding the Samora Machel evictions and he promises to immediately address the issue.
The anti eviction campaign is credited for having settled disagreements between local traders and Somali shopkeepers.
”I wish to appeal to all South Africans in the Townships to bear with foreigners and if they have any problem with them then they should contact my organization or the police.” Twalo said although local businesses in Samora Machel, Kosovo and some other areas have been struggling for years, they had no right to vent their anger and misfortune on the poor, struggling Somali traders who have set up shops in their communities