Bangladeshi shop owners face xenophobic threats from Kimberley residents

| Douglas Mthukwane
People stand menacingly, near a Bangladeshi owned shop in Kimberley. Photo by Douglas Mthukwane.

The Bangladeshi owners of a shop were escorted out of Roodepan by heavily armed police officers last night. This happened after angry residents pelted the shop, Roodepan Mobile on Starling Street, with bricks and stones shortly after 7pm.

Residents were enraged by an altercation that took place between the shop owners and a 12-year-old boy known only as Ronald, apparently over whether or not the boy had been shortchanged. Residents accused the shop owners of using a steel pipe to assault the boy.

A police source said that he regularly attends to complaints by foreigners who allege that some residents go to their shops to cause trouble

“There is a practice of people who would buy with a R10 note and expect change for R100.” When the shop owners don’t want to give this change then xenophobic insults and violence ensues,” said the police source.

A child witness GroundUp spoke to claimed that Ronald was beaten for no apparent reason. She claimed the shop owners were armed with pepper spray, pangas and hockey sticks.

Alam Mia, one of the owners of the shop, did not deny that they had weapons. “However our lives are threatened by thugs who come here to rob us, at times using small kids as a front,” he said.

Mia and his three brothers were told by the police to close their shop and take some clothes with them, before they were whisked away by heavily armed police in an armoured Nyala. “If you do not leave we will be forced to lock you up for your own safety,” said one officer to the reluctant shop owners.

Police were armed with rifles, rubber bullets and shotguns. A police van’s tyres were punctured by a sharp object.

Ronald and his mother were also removed from the scene by police.

Police got all foreign owned shops to close for the evening. They also continued patrolling the area. This appeared to diffuse the situation.

SAPS spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said that there were many versions about the cause of Monday evening’s incidents. In a written statement just sent to GroundUp, she wrote: “It is alleged that on Monday, 11 May 2015 at about 19:00, an altercation took place between the Bangladeshi shop owner and a customer over short change given to the customer’s son. The owner and the customer resolved the issue and the complainant left satisfied. A few minutes later, residents in the vicinity started throwing stones at the shop. Police were immediately in attendance. The owner of the shop locked his shop and left. While attending to the disruption, two tyres on a police vehicle were slashed. A case of Malicious Damage to Property was opened and is under investigation. No arrests have been made. The group of people dispersed and no one was injured.”

Another resident Ronald Chaka threatened, “Tonight they attacked a small kid. We do not even have the sort of weapons these chaps have in their shops in our homes, but we vow to take them on.”

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