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Appeals for calm in Soweto after child deaths allegedly linked to toxic spaza biscuits

Appeals for calm in Soweto after child deaths allegedly linked to toxic spaza biscuits
A view of Rebopane Enterprise in Naledi on 3 October 2023 in Soweto, South Africa. It is reported that two children fell ill and two died after eating allegedly poisonous biscuits they had bought from a nearby spaza shop. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Two children died in Naledi, Soweto, after allegedly eating food from a spaza shop, and some in the community now want what they refer to as foreign-owned stores, to close.

City of Johannesburg officials are calling for calm in Naledi, Soweto, after two boys died on Sunday, 1 October, and two other children were hospitalised after they allegedly ate biscuits and drank juice bought from a spaza shop, which locals say caused them to become ill.

Speaking during a visit to the affected families on Wednesday, Johannesburg Council Speaker Colleen Makhubele acknowledged there was mounting anger over a variety of social issues.

“We are appealing to everybody to allow the police investigation to unfold. We understand that whatever they ate was collected for tests. The South African Police Service is on the case. Please allow them to come back and tell us what happened,” Makhubele said.

“We want to appeal to the community that at this time, we do not want to resurrect issues of unrest and violence, especially against foreigners,” she said. 

The two boys who died were Leon Jele (6) and Neo Kgang (4). It is alleged that moments after they ate the biscuits and drank the juice, they complained of burning throats.  

“The cause of death is unknown at this stage, pending postmortem results,” Gauteng police spokesperson Colonel Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi said. 

Community targets foreign-owned stores

Community members claimed the store where the children bought the biscuits and juice is owned by a so-called foreigner.

The two deaths led to calls to close all foreign-owned spaza shops in Soweto, which has seen sporadic protests against so-called foreigners and the looting of their stores in recent years.

The store that sold the biscuits was closed this week and its owner was not on the premises on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We are appealing for calm because we understand that this is a time when everybody has mounting rage on a number of issues and social ills in our communities, such as unemployment,” Makhubele said. 

“And it’s very easy to channel the negative frustration towards what has been happening with these foreigners,” she said.

Makhubele, however, called on the government to monitor the quality of food sold at spaza shops, touching on an accusation that they sell expired or unhealthy food.

She added, “This is murder, and people are getting away with murder because our systems are failing. It’s a whole chain of failures.”

There have been frequent protests against foreign-owned businesses in Gauteng, and politicians have latched on to the anti-foreigner sentiments.

Before being promulgated in 2022, the province’s Gauteng Township Economic Development Act sought to exclude so-called foreigners from “designated business activities”, but those provisions were removed after challenges from civil society.

The anti-foreigner movement Operation Dudula, which recently registered as a political party, was present in Naledi this week where its president, Zandile Dabula, called for the closure of “illegal” spaza shops.

Dabula and her organisation have led illegal raids on properties they believe are linked to so-called foreigners.

“When we raided the illegal spaza shops in the past, we found many expired goods but our government is doing nothing about it,” Dabula claimed. 

In its first public demonstration in June 2021, Operation Dudula members raided spaza shops in the area and unlawfully ordered those owned by so-called foreigners to close. The raids were carried out in the presence of the police 

It appears that the issue of immigrants in SA will be a key talking point ahead of the 2024 elections, with a number of parties already seeking to blame so-called foreigners for the country’s problems. 

Just over a month ago on August 25, 2023, Mpho Moetlo, the MMC for public safety in Johannesburg, led a joint operation with the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to inspect spaza shops in Tshepisong. 

The operation was conducted in response to complaints from residents about the sale of expired food and unauthorised medicine at some of the shops. 

Meanwhile, in an unrelated incident, Gauteng Police Commissioner Elias Mawela confirmed on Thursday that two boys died after eating snacks which they bought at the Bekkersdal taxi rank. He said police were investigating. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Our own people are useless and lazy, that’s what as created a market for foreign owned businesses to thrive. But a few years ago when the locals destroyed foreign-owned shops it took but a few days before the same locals were complaining they no longer had anywhere to shop and had to travel long distances to go to the supermarkets. Can’t have it both ways

  • Bob Dubery says:

    Why would shops sell goods that kill the customers?

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    “We are appealing to everybody to allow the police investigation to unfold.”

    Ja, that will convince the mob. Everyone knows that “police investigation” is a uniquely South African oxymoron.

  • Dellarose Bassa says:

    I am in no way condoning profit above safety but everyone is out to make a profit or just scrape a living together, especially in these challenging times. Of course, corners will be cut and chances taken -until a tragedy happens. Trying to regulate spaza shops, implement health inspections of a myriad mushrooming enterprises, blaming foreigners, blaming the Govt, etc. point to the self-inflicted helplessness of our populace. They give away their own agency too easily and too quickly, refusing to take responsibility for themselves and the children they’ve brought into the world. It’s always everyone else’s fault. Of course, the usual suspects, our overpaid and under-worked ‘governing’ officials, forever reactive, jump onto this bandwagon of the blame-game. The fact of the matter is that children should not be getting pocket money daily. They have not the sense of discrimination and discipline to spend that money in their own best interest.
    They should be taking a packed lunch from home, made by their parents/ care-givers or themselves as they get older. We all know that the food cold chain cannot be assured, given the scheduled blackouts and (unscheduled) power outages. We know that hygiene cannot be assured – especially given the water supply disruptions . We know that make-shift roadside stalls, taxi-ranks, spaza shops and the like operate on rudimentary infrastructure.
    Will lessons be learnt? Not holding my breath.

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