Local businesses move against Somali shops in Khayelitsha

| Tariro Washinyira
A spaza shop in Khayelitsha. Photo by Nokubonga Yawa.

Town Two Khayelitsha is the site of tension between a local business association and Somali shops. The Zanokhanyo Business Association (ZBA) is accusing Somali shop owners of not abiding by a 2008 agreement which says that no new foreign owned shops should operate in the townships following the May 2008 xenophobic attacks.

The ZBA held a meeting on Thursday which was attended by South Africa National Civic Organisation (SANCO) and Community Police Forum. ZBA secretary, Reginald Mthembu, said the meeting developed a programme to reduce the number of shops owned by Somalis and enforce the 2008 agreement. He said they held a meeting without Somali representatives because “they always deliberately miss the meetings.”

Mthembu said signatories to the 2008 agreement included the Somali Retailers’ Association, SANCO, ZBA and the Khayelitsha Development Forum. He said the agreement intended to maintain proper business proportions and avoid ownership of new businesses in the township by foreigners. “We have tried to address this problem several times. We have also approached Radio Zibonele to call Somali leaders so that we can talk but they refused and hide behind the workers who run their spaza shops in the townships. The solution for now is to go back to the 2008 agreement. We do not care whether they are represented or not. Even in a court of law, as long as the summons is sent, the ruling will be passed irrespective of the accused being present or not. We are not going to be blackmailed by them.

“This has become a social problem. For instance, we have widows in this community who have more than five children and have lost their business to Somalis. The children are now running around because they have nothing to do and are stealing. Our people have been subjected to poverty.”

Mthembu said they wanted to co-exist with Somali businesses and have fixed price agreements with them. “If we take the taxis business as an example, they have the same fares. It does not matter if it is Indian, Coloured or African owned.”

Abdirahaman Abdiwali is the provincial Secretary of the Somali Community Board of South Africa, an umbrella body of Somali organisations. He warns, “All attacks, limitations of Somali shops and threats violate the fundamental principles of the country’s Constitution which rejects discrimination and intolerance on the basis of race. So anything against refugee rights should be detested as hatred.” He is aware of the 2008 agreement but says he has never supported it since its inception because it violates the Constitution which allows foreigners to venture into business opportunities. “When that agreement was signed, they just got a certain group of Somalis to sign. Some of those organisations are made up of criminals who approach Somalis in townships for donations and threaten to evict them if they refuse to pay.” Abdiwali says the role of the ZBA, SANCO and the police should be well defined. He asks if they are community activists or law implementers.

Abdiwall says the Somali community is ready to support any positive development. If the government issues a new policy they will abide by it, but he says they cannot “support individuals who have their own motives which might later lead to xenophobia.” He says in the last few months the Somali community lost more than 28 people and more than 50 robberies were reported.

Mzwandice Mhlobo runs a tuck shop. He said it is just a matter of time before he completely closes his business. He claimed he can’t compete with the growing number of Somali-owned businesses. He said that most of the South Africans in the area gave up their businesses because they could not cope with the competition. “The Somalis are killing our shops. They come and surround you. Then they send their children to scout prices from your shop and lower their prices a bit. When you finally close the business they then raise their prices. Now I am feeling the heat. I am not coping. The business used to be big, highly stocked but now it is going down. Since 2008 I have not been doing well and I have now concluded it is not going to be better. I have two employees, tax, electricity and petrol expenses.”

A Somali spaza shop owner, Phillemon Njeke, did not see the growth of Somali shops as an obstacle to South African spaza shops. He claimed local shops are charging too much for their items and not offering credit. He also has difficult times he emphasised. He has been stuck with the same stock for the past three weeks because there are no customers, and he is looking forward to month end.

Ayele Ane is a customer at Njeke’s shop. She said she is happy with Somali spaza shops owners because their prices are reasonable and they still give items if your money is short.

William Kerfoot, a lawyer with the Legal Resources Centre who deals with many immigration cases said, “It is very important that the apparent tension be resolved by peaceful negotiation with the assistance of experienced mediators. Complex issues are involved and the parties should strive to achieve an outcome in which the interests of a poor community to buy necessary groceries at the best possible price, the interests of a very vulnerable refugee community entitled to the protection of this country and the interests of local businesses are reconciled on a legal and sustainable basis.”

See this editorial in today’s GroundUp.

Below are three documents we obtained from the ZBA. The first two are agreements from 2008 that would limit the number of Somali owned shops. The third is a communication from March 2012 apparently signed by several organisations concerned about the growth of Somali businesses. It also contains an appeal to an unnamed Minister to intervene.

Khayelitsha Somali Retailer's Association

Agreement between ZRA and the Khayelitsha Somali Retailer's Association

Lookout Hill Communique

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