Police close immigrant-owned spaza shops “for their own safety”

“Police are only concentrating on road blocks” complains shop owner

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Photo of people outside a shop
Chatty residents watched as Lucky 7 Spaza shop owners removed stock and left the area. Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani

Immigrant spaza shop owners say police in Nelson Mandela Bay have forced them to close, saying it is for their own safety and citing incidents of looting.

This week 89 shops were forced to shut down. About 25 shops were looted in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth by people saying they needed food, according to Said Mohamud, provincial chairperson of the Somali Community Association.

“Police are only concentrating on road blocks,” he said. “In northerns areas like Timothy Valley, KwaNoxolo, Booysen Park and Chatty that is where the problem is. Armed gangs who ride motorbikes come and rob us. Then the communities also come in and loot our shops.”

“In Soweto-on-Sea township I had to stop the police after they ordered three shop owners to remove all their stock and leave the area. This was after one of the shops was looted. But in the other three shops the community was there protecting our shops,” he said.

But the community could not protect them against the gangs, he said.

Luyanda Cwele, a resident of Chatty in Greenfield, was one of those trying to protect the shops. But he said police chased them away.

“We were sleeping inside as a group of residents to protect the Top 10 spaza shop … Instead of working with us, they [police from Mount Road station] just assaulted us. We tried to explain to them that we were fighting against the looting of our shops. But they told us to go back to our homes.”

As a knock on effect, those that rent out the shops have lost that income. Vuyo Matyobeni, a landlord, said, “My shop, which I am renting out to immigrants, could have been damaged. But the presence of this brave community prevented that. There is no police presence here hence the thugs are looting the shops”.

Sizeka Nyodi, 65, said she was frustrated when she saw the Lucky 7 Spaza shop owners leave Greenfield on Wednesday morning. “We spent the whole night wearing our gowns and pyjamas protecting this shop from the gangs. Now, we see police escorting the shop owners with their goods.”

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Sibongile Soci said, “The recent lootings and break-ins at the spaza shops in Port Elizabeth this week were volatile and shop owners were requested to close their shops for their own safety.

“They were also advised to remove their stock should there be break-ins during the night … And they were advised that once the situation quelled down, they could return to their shops. They were never instructed to close permanently but rather advised of the volatility at that moment.”

She said it was alleged that lootings took place at some shops because of price hikes.

“Many shops that were looted during the week, have opened and are operating … SAPS encourages the community to support the spaza shops as this will minimise the movement of people in their respective areas,” she said.

TOPICS:  Immigration Policing

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