Somali owners close spaza shops as crime rises in Gqeberha
Police are no longer trusted by many immigrants
- On Friday immigrants and citizens marched with a petition of 38 demands to Motherwell police station, saying crime in the area is rising and going unchecked.
- Recent Eastern Cape crime stats appear to confirm their complaints.
- Immigrant shop owners say they are being driven out of Gqeberha townships because of the crime situation.
- The district police commissioner says more police have been deployed in the lead-up to the festive season but the community must work with the police.
Immigrant shop owners in Gqeberha say they live in fear of daylight robbery and murder.
About 40 immigrant shop owners and South Africans marched to the Motherwell police station on Friday to complain about SAPS’s failure to protect the public.
Led by the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO), the marchers included ANC, SACP, COSATU and Gqeberha Community Forum members.
An immigrant shop owner based in Kamvelihle, who did not want his name published, said he and several of his Somali countrymen have closed their shops in Motherwell after they were repeatedly robbed.
“Doing business in Motherwell is becoming risky and expensive,” he said.
Chairperson of Somali Community Services Said Mohamed said, “A lot of shops are not running well in Motherwell township especially in NU10, NU11, NU12 and NU29 and in Kamvelihle. Cases have been opened but there is no follow-up. Criminals keep on asking for protection fees from delivery vans. Hijackings are too much.”
He said, “There is lack of police visibility, and police officers who used to patrol around are no more. There used to be roadblocks every corner, but no more. Sector managers who used to visit shops are no more.”
A Bolt e-hailing driver said he no longer responds to requests from Motherwell, New Brighton and Zwide.
He was hijacked in Motherwell in September. “I got a trip from Gqeberha Central to Motherwell but the person pulled out his gun when we arrived there. Three other people emerged from a car that was behind us. They put me in the boot and demanded my ATM pin number. They released me after the clutch of the car malfunctioned. They withdrew R4,000 from my account,” he said.
Crime statistics recently released for the Eastern Cape for July-September 2022 show Motherwell police station recorded 53 cases of carjacking compared to 30 for the same period in 2021. KwaZakele police station had 47 cases compared to 22 in 2021. Swartkops had five truck hijacking cases.
SANCO regional chairperson Mxolisi Mani said police stations in Motherwell, Kamvelihle and Swartkops were poorly equipped, short of vehicles and had been understaffed since 2019. Mani said police officers had been redeployed to the Gang Unit and never replaced.
Meanwhile the local community policing forums (CPFs) don’t have the necessary equipment to help. According to Kamvelihle CPF chairperson Mandisa Norman, they are no longer even allowed to use the police station phone.
“We were told that only people with a Public Servant Verification System number are allowed to use the phone,” said Norman.
Gerhard Saayman, former KwaDwesi police station commander and now director of the Refugee and Migrant Support Centre, said the police appear to have no proper crime-combatting strategy in place.
Immigrants no longer trust the police.
“We found out that not only criminals are targeting foreigners for goods and protection fees, but also the police are involved,” he said. “In KwaNobuhle some of the foreign nationals were phoned by criminals when they went to the police station to open a case of robbery. They were asked what they were doing there. They were told that ‘you think we don’t know you’re at the police station … We have got our brothers inside there who are telling us what you’re saying’.”
He says, as a result, “They don’t trust the system now”.
The 38 demands in the marchers’ four-page petition include: 30 police officers per shift at Motherwell police station, 20 at Kamvelihle, and 12 at Swartkops; more CPF members and a stipend for them; a forensic office in Motherwell; CCTV at crime hotspots; and a satellite police station for Wells Estate. The marchers gave police 30 days to respond.
Nelson Mandela Bay District Commissioner Major-General Vuyisile Ncata received the petition and promised to respond in the first week of January 2023.
He said, “No one should be turned away from a police station. When a police van doesn’t stop to attend to a complaint, take a picture. When they don’t work, name and shame them.”
“We need more boots on the ground,” he acknowledged. “That is why I have signed overtime to complement the shortage of members to ensure that we have additional forces on the ground especially this festive season. Our people want to enjoy the end of year, yet criminals will be after them.”
He said a tactical response team, public order police, and more officers had arrived on Thursday, and he had called the metro police to assist in the area.
However, Ncata also shifted responsibility to the community. “You expect police to secure convictions when residents don’t come forward with information,” he said.
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