The Northern Businesses Associations (NORBA) has blamed the ongoing tensions between local and foreign nationals shopkeepers on the government. This, following a meeting was held by different stakeholders at the KwaMashu police station on Monday 14 May, after NORBA issued an ultimatum letter ordering the foreign nationals to shut down their stores by 17 May 2018.
The meeting between various industry stakeholders was aimed at finding an amicable solution before violence flares up.
On May 3, a letter calling for all foreign owned shops in Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu area to cease all the operations was issued out. The KwaZulu-Natal Somali Community Council (KZNSCC) then sought intervention from different bodies including the KwaZulu-Natal premier Willies Mchunu, eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA)’s regional executive manager Sibusiso Nhlangothi.
According to the NORBA secretary Mlungisi Mncube, the issue of foreign owned shops in the townships dates back to 2014, and is a result of the introduction of big malls in townships by the government.
“When the government first introduced malls in our townships, what happened was that our shops near those malls had to be closed down. That affected Muslims who were our suppliers such as Ohlange Cash & Carry, and the likes.”
“When these suppliers were affected, they sought a way to try and push their business in the townships. They resorted to cheap labour from the Muslim dominated countries to compete with malls, they would bring in people from different countries to come work at their shops in townships,” he said.
Mncube also said that this created commotion when foreign nationals started having their several shops close to that of the locals, taking away business from them.
According to the eThekwini mayor’s advisor Mlungisi Ntombela, another meeting was scheduled for Tuesday 15 May, where all stakeholders would be present to table out solutions to this matter.
“Tomorrow there’s a meeting that will be coordinated at the level of the premier’s office where various departments as well the leadership of shop owners at senior level. There will be people representing Somalis, Ethiopians and representatives of local businessmen,” he said.
Ntombela said that he believes that they will find a way forward and might be able to find the solution as the meeting already showed pointers of success.
In 2015, foreign nationals in various areas of Northern Durban were attacked, and the violence quickly spread to other communities such as Inanda, KwaMashu and Ntuzuma.
A shop owner from Ethiopia who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of this matter said that they are expecting anything judging from what happened back in 2015.
“Although I wasn’t directly affected back then, I could witness it from my fellow Ethiopians and the situation was dire. I’m afraid that if violence were to flare up this time we could even die,” he said.
He said that the call for them to shut down their businesses is not easy to them since it’s their only way of earning livelihoods.
“We are not fighting with anyone, we are just trying to sustain our lives. I just wish we could all work together in harmony and continue supporting the communities we live in,” he said.
According to Mncube, this is not the first time the call for foreign owned shops to be closed down is being made.
“The government knows about this, the mayor of EThekwini stays in Amawoti area and she knows about this issue but they never take us serious when we raise our concerns. I’ve been trying to work on this since 2014 and even lost my job at Sanlam because of the meetings I had to go to and miss work,” he said.