Somalis targeted in South Africa

Increasing numbers of Somali owned businesses have been under attack

South Africa is perceived as the symbol of African freedom but the nation is letting itself down by shamefully remaining silent over the targeting of its immigrant population, writes Mohammed Kahiye.

When I saw the video of a Somali businessman crying for help while being stoned by angry South African youths uploaded on social media, it reminded me of how human beings are so merciless and forgetful.

Shockingly, cars and people passed by in a busy street in one of South Africa’s most populated cities, Johannesburg. As the man cried for help with the hope that somebody would sympathize with his condition and rescue him, nobody even bothered to remind the angry mob of how valuable a human’s life was. Instead, people looked on jovially and the best they could do was to hoot to warn the mob not to smash the stones they were using to hit the helpless man into their car windows.

It all started with Bishar Isaac, a Somali shop owner who allegedly shot dead two Zimbabweans last week, in what was widely believed to be an act of self-defence. It’s thought that the two Zimbabweans who died and another South African who escaped with gunshot wounds wanted to execute a robbery.

The violence and looting that followed targeted foreign-owned businesses, particularly Somalis, and immediately spread to other parts of country.

In the Vaal region, police received more than a 100 complaints of looting and vandalism of shops belonging to foreigners and, in some instances, South Africans. However, according to the South African police, scores of people were arrested for the attacks and are expected to appear in court as investigations are completed.

Meanwhile, the ruling party, the African National Congress, has condemned the violence against foreign investors. An ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu said: “The violent xenophobic incident of 2008 is a lesson to all of us. We must constantly foster towards unity and cohesion amongst our communities. Regardless of what caused these violent protests, the ANC condemns any attacks on members of the society, irrespective of their nationality.”

Somali government’s concern

In an unprecedented move, the government of the Federal Republic of Somalia has called upon its South African counterpart to protect Somali citizens in the country, in the wake of the xenophobic attacks against its Somali citizens.

In an open letter from the office of the Somali Prime Minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, to South African President Jacob Zuma, the Somali government appealed for urgency on the matter.

PM Shirdon said: “I appeal to the government of the Republic of South Africa as a matter of urgency to intervene and contain this unnecessary and unfortunate violence against Somali business communities to preserve peace and stability.”

Speaking during a press conference in the capital city Mogadishu, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Somalia, Ambassador Abdisalam Haji Ahmed, confirmed that his government will soon send a delegation to South Africa to assess the situation and discuss with South African authorities on how to approach the worrying trend of violence meted against Somali-owned business.

He said: “For years Somalis in South Africa have experienced xenophobic attacks which led to looting and destruction of their property. In this regard it has reached a point whereby we can no longer sit back and watch but to intervene urgently as a government.’’

He also urged Somali businessmen in South Africa to stay away from remote areas and instead, stay close to where they can get access to security agencies whenever there is a threat.

According to the Somali ambassador to South Africa, Sayid Hassan Sharif, three people have been killed while two others sustained serious injuries since the violence started earlier this month.

“South African justice”

However, some of the victims of the attacks who spoke to 5 Pillarz on condition of anonymity have said they fear that justice which will not be served by the South African judiciary amid police harassment.  

One of the victims said: “When we went to the police to the file a case of our relative who was brutality murdered, it was unfortunate to see police threatening to sue us for illegal possession of arms and using it against the locals during the violence.”

Another victim said to me: “We were locked up inside the police station without questioning for six hours and even denied permission to pray Dhur in a nearby mosque.”

But South African police spokesman, Andre Beetge said: “We are adamant that the attacks were caused by a business feud and not xenophobia as widely reported.”

In 2010 more than 60 foreigners lost their lives in similar attacks and the country’s Human Rights Council has condemned the violence.

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