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Immigrant shopkeepers in Delmas battle to reopen following widespread looting

Immigrant shopkeepers in Delmas battle to reopen following widespread looting
Shopkeeper Alemu Wayu lost all his stock during looting last month. (Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro)

Many shops still closed after looting during community protests last month.

Dozens of shopkeepers in Delmas, in the Victor Khanye Local Municipality, say they may never be able to fill their shelves again, after shops belonging mostly to Ethiopians were looted during a community protest last month.

Many shops remain closed since protests shut down the community from 19 to 21 February. The shutdown was prompted by grievances in the community against nearby mines and the municipality which protesters accuse of not prioritising residents for jobs.

Though they were warned of the impending shutdown, many shopkeepers could not carry their stock to safety in time.

“It was just unfortunate that some people took their frustrations out on our African brothers, which is usually the norm when these protests happen,” said Tshepo Radipabe from the Migration Community Business Forum, which represents immigrant shops in the area.

Shopkeepers pay R200 a month to the forum, which uses the money to buy food, school uniforms and other items for struggling families in the community. The forum patrols all Delmas shops and is responsible for over 100 shops, Radipabe said.

Radipabe said usually meetings were held with community leaders before protest action takes place and shops were advised to close until things settled. But he said this time the situation got out of hand.

Tamema Ahmed, an Ethiopian shopkeeper, says he was stopped by a crowd in Delmas Extension 1 while taking his stock to safety in a van on the evening of 19 February, following warnings of a shutdown. All his goods were taken. He has operated in the area for more than 10 years and says shops were last looted five years ago. During the July 2021 unrest, Ahmed said, immigrant shops were not touched because the forum protected them.

“For five years it was quiet. Sometimes we received warnings that they would loot, but it never happened. But just as we were becoming comfortable, they looted again.”

The forum has advised shopkeepers who wish to restock their shops to wait until the community has received feedback from the municipality, as people have warned they will shut down the town again if their grievances are not addressed.

Ahmed said shopkeepers had begun to feel insecure once again, as they did in 2008, 2013 and 2017 when xenophobic attacks occurred.

Alemu Wayu’s shops were broken into in broad daylight on 20 February, and goods worth more than R250,000 were stolen, he told GroundUp. “They even stripped compressors from the fridges,” Wayu said.


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“I feel sad that this thing always happens,” said Woreda Jena, another shop owner. He said he had asked the police to accompany him to his shop so he could take the stock, but “police just dropped me off and skidded away”.

Abdusetar Yunus, who rents rooms in the township with his wife and children, says his home was broken into and he was told he must leave with his family. “We were left with nothing, they took my stock and my money and demanded that we leave the township. The government must protect us because these attacks always happen one way or the other,” he said.

Abdusetar Yunus, Delmas

Abdusetar Yunus says he was told to leave his home with his family. (Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro)

Ward committee member Thabo Molamile (ANC), who owns a shop which he rents out, said community members were fighting for jobs. He said the shutdown had been planned “in a peaceful manner”, but “what happened with the shops was unfortunate.”

In a memorandum handed to the municipality, the community members complained about being badly treated by mine security when they went to hand over CVs or look for jobs. They say their CVs are thrown away while jobs are given to people who come from outside Delmas. They demanded that the mines should contract local security companies and the municipality should give community members a chance, among other things.

Delmas SAPS said in a statement that protests started in the evening of 19 February and “escalated during the day with stones thrown to passing motor vehicles, burning of a truck and a vehicle and looting of local businesses and factories, with damages estimated to be millions … A meeting was held whereby the executive Mayor, Mr Vusi Buda, management of the mine houses, taxi association and SAPS were trying to find a suitable solution.”

Police reported that 19 people were arrested.

Radipape said meetings were currently being held with police to discuss ways of integrating the shopkeepers back into the community.

Gadaffi Hajj from Somalia, whose shop was broken into, said, “During apartheid, Somalia helped South Africa and we are all African brothers.”

“We [refugees] are like aliens, we are nobody here, the government and police don’t protect us, the Home Affairs are always against us, the community are against us. Maybe we should be taken to another country to begin a new life,” Hajj said. DM

Delmas shops

Some shops have re-opened but with hardly any stock. (Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro)

First published by GroundUp.

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