The provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal has been forced to intervene as tensions rise between local business groups and migrant businessmen in townships near Durban. KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu called an urgent meeting on Tuesday with all stakeholders at a police station in KwaMashu hoping to avoid the situation escalating into violence.
The latest round of tensions in the townships surrounding Durban comes after a local business association called North Region Business Association (NORBA) issued migrant businessmen with a letter instructing them to close their shops and vacate the townships by Thursday, 17 May. The townships mainly affected by this letter include Inanda, KwaMashu and Ntuzuma.
Large-scale xenophobic violence which broke out in Durban in 2015 resulted in the displacement of thousands of people and saw multiple deaths linked to the violence. Since the letter was issued, some of the migrant workers gathered at the police station as they fear a return of the violence if government fails to act swiftly and provide them with the adequate protection.
Representatives from the local business grouping NORBA accuse migrant shop owners of operating illegally and of unfair business practices. They confirmed to reporters that it was their organisation which had sent out the letter demanding that foreign migrants leave the townships in which they operate.
“We have told them to leave. They don’t employ South Africans and they open up shops right next to locally owned stores and take all the business,” said NORBA’s Vusi Msomi.
Jameel Mohammed, an Ethiopian businessman operating in Inanda, was at the meeting convened by the local government on Tuesday night. He says he feels the crux of the issue relates to competition for business customers in the townships.
“Of course we have a fear for our lives. Our brothers have been burned alive several times. But the issue right now is not to talk about a problem which is past but to solve the current problem,” said Mohammed. He says that when he asked the local business association why they had issued the letter their response was that foreigners were opening up too many shops and taking jobs and business away from locals.
“We are running a business legally like all business people. We have absolutely no problem with the community itself. The only issue seems to be with the business association,” said Mohammed.
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu arrived with MEC for Economic Development Sihle Zikalala at the KwaMashu police station where they met with leaders from both sides. Also in attendance was some religious leaders and senior members of the South African Police Service.
The premier indicated that the government had decided to step in to avoid any sort of violent escalation. “We had heard discouraging noises from some small business people, especially those that are tuck shop owners. So for fear of an escalation which could lead to violence we have come here mainly to listen to concerns from everyone and to forge a peaceful solution. We must make sure that the law is respected,” said Mchunu.
The premier said that at the moment there was no immediate threat of violence but that this meeting was called so that people could air their grievances and a solution could be found.
“We want to hear all concerns directly from those affected. Both the locals businessmen and also I’m not eager to call them foreign nationals. Because they are Africans in Africa. And South Africa is part of Africa. So I call them migrants,” said Mchunu.
The meeting resulted in an agreement between government, local and foreign business owners. The locals have agreed to suspend their call for the removal of migrant-owned businesses pending government investigations into whether migrants’ businesses are operating within the law and are registered properly.
Police in the area remain on high alert. DM
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