Gauteng looters stoke xenophobia fires as shopkeepers are targeted

By Zukiswa Pikoli 14 July 2021

Supporters of former president Jacob Zuma march through the streets during clashes in downtown Johannesburg on 11 July 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Kim Ludbrook)

Organisations working with migrants in the Johannesburg inner city say they are facing violence from protesters and looters, and have no choice but to fight back because the police are not helping.

Zukiswa Pikoli

As civil unrest, violence and looting tighten their grip on South Africa since erupting over the weekend, another menace has crept in opportunistically as looters run rampant: xenophobia. 

On Tuesday, 13 July, at a media briefing called by the security cluster ministers, Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo said her department was looking into attacks on foreigners and “right-wing extremism” linked to the protest.

I must say that at this point the State Security Agency is already looking into the possibility of attacks on foreign nationals that I would never want to call xenophobia. We are also looking at possible eruption of right-wing extremism, as you would have seen [from] what was happening in KwaZulu-Natal, which can lead to racial tensions in that area. We are on top of issues. We received a report yesterday [Monday], which will be properly packaged around these two issues,” said Dlodlo.

Speaking to Maverick Citizen, Anne Michaels from the African Diaspora Forum (ADF), said that over the past couple of days there has been a lot of violence and looting, particularly in the inner city, Hillbrow and Malvern. She said migrants are being targeted by protesters even though they are not part and parcel of the issues. She says many affected migrants, most of whom are business owners, have asked her what they can do. “I have been out on the streets since 5am trying to help people.” All she could do was advise them to protect themselves since the police were unable to. 

The migrants in Malvern were not able to defend themselves and their shops had been looted, “but in the inner city, at the core of the business sector, they stood their ground and fought back to protect themselves”.

ADF spokesperson Amir Sheikh said: “What we are seeing is that there is criminality and law enforcement is overwhelmed, and it is not the first time. Luckily no lives have been lost yet.” Many businesses belonging to migrants had closed, with some owners trapped inside and armed with machetes to protect their businesses from looters.

Sheikh feared that when migrants fight back they will be painted as “fighting Zulus”. He worried that migrants would be used as scapegoats since they do not have a say in the running of the country. Sheikh said the looting was taking place across Gauteng – in Dobsonville, Soweto, where violence was brewed in the hostels, Alexandra and the inner city and surrounds, including Malvern and Denver. 

Sheikh also noted that while there were genuine supporters of former president Jacob Zuma among the protesters, there was a criminal element – “this is domestic terrorism”. 

“I don’t believe this thing is sporadic because it is well executed and well funded,” he said, referring specifically to former Ukhozi FM DJ Ngizwe Mchunu, who he says stoked xenophobic sentiment and violence when he addressed crowds at a meeting he convened at the Kwa Mai Mai Traditional Market in downtown Johannesburg over the weekend. Ngizwe was among those flanking Zuma when he addressed his supporters on 4 July.

Sheikh said he had seen pamphlets circulating in the inner city promoting the #FreeJacobZuma campaign, calling people from around the city to gather – particularly from the hostels at Kwa Mai Mai, which are mostly inhabited by people from KwaZulu-Natal.  

He conceded that while migrants are not necessarily the only targets of the violence and looting, they too are being negatively affected. DM/MC


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