Cops close shop because it is “foreign-owned”

Wallacedene residents react angrily to what appears to be officially sanctioned xenophobia

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Photo of women talking to police
Tembela Metuso and Zanele Ngcobo negotiate with members of the South African Police Service who repeatedly shut down their shop. Photo: Vincent Lali

Tembela Metuso is angry with the police and a community leader because they ordered her to shut down her new grocery shop.

She rents the shop to a businesswoman, Zanele Ngcobo, who dates a Malawian man.

“The police and the community leaders say my tenant cannot run the shop because it belongs to a foreigner,” said Metuso. “They say foreigners are not supposed to open new shops in my neighbourhood, but I rent out the shop to a Xhosa businesswoman.”

On Thursday, residents stood by Metuso and demanded that the police leave the shop owner alone and allow her to operate.

Residents came to the defence of Metuso and Ngcobo. Photo: Vincent Lali

Metuso said Kraaifontein police and the chairman of the Wallacedene Community Policing Forum, Derrick Letlaila, have been raiding the shop and forcing her to close it since 12 May, when she opened it. “Everyday police officials come here carrying big guns to order us to close the shop as if we are criminals who operate an illegal business,” she said.

Metuso added: “I’m stressed out because I hope to live off the rent money from tenants.”

She said the cops and Letlaila told her that a rule was made several years ago, following xenophobic attacks on foreign-owned shops, that foreigners could not set up new businesses in Wallacedene.

If this was indeed the case, it would be in violation of the South African Constitution and therefore illegal. There is no law in South Africa which allows a shop to be closed because it is owned or operated by an immigrant, asylum seeker or foreign national.

“No one has a right to tell me what to do in my mother’s yard. I want the couple to continue with their business because they don’t break any law,” said Metuso.

In any case, Ngcobo confirmed that she runs the shop: “I’m the one who rents the shop and who sells groceries, not my boyfriend. The cops and the leaders assumed he rents the shop because they saw him build it.”

Residents came out in support of Metuso and Ngcobo. Thembakazi Lingani said: “We have no shop in our area, so our kids get robbed when they go to buy in other areas.” She added: “The government says we must stand on our own two feet and become entrepreneurial, but cops shut down our shops when we do as the government says.”

Community leader Zuko Tyantsi said: “We want the couple to operate the shop. If the law says they must close it, they must show us the law that says so.”

Letlaila admitted that he and the cops closed the shop. He claimed it was in accordance with a decision community leaders and a ward councillor made that foreigners would not be allowed to open more shops in Wallacedene and Bloekombos.

He said: “Also, we close the shop to prevent further xenophobic violence against our foreign brothers and sisters because local traders become angry when they see foreign-owned shops outnumber theirs.”

He claimed Ngcobo is lying about who actually rents the shop. “Foreigners now use a strategy whereby they date or marry a local woman, open up a shop and falsely claim it belongs to him,” he said.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said: “Kindly encourage your source to report the alleged incident to the management of Kraaifontein police so that the allegations levelled at the police officers can be investigated. Once this investigation has been concluded, this office will be in a far better position to offer you a comment in this regard.”

When phoned by a GroundUp editor shortly before publication, and informed that we have photographic evidence of the police carrying out an illegal instruction, Traut said he stood by his comment. He said he found it strange that people go to a reporter before the police. He said the police involved could be reported to any police or the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), and it would be investigated.  

On Monday afternoon, Metuso confirmed that the shop remains open, but she is anxious that the cops will try to come and close it at any time.

TOPICS:  Immigration Policing

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