Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Beneath Soweto looting lies resentment of foreign competition

Johannesburg: The sporadic and widespread violent incidences of looting of shops run by foreign nationals witnessed in some parts of Soweto this past week were bound to happen.

What needed to happen was for a suspected young robber ÔÇô a 14-year-old boy ÔÇô to be shot and killed by a foreign shop keeper in Doornkop this past Monday. The incident opened a window of opportunity for some township hot heads to erupt into a free for all looting frenzy targeting tuck shops mostly run by Somali and Pakistani nationals.

By Thursday, running battles ensued between the police and looters in Soweto going into the night before spiralling to other areas such as Roodepoort and Kagiso in the West Rand.

On Friday police said they had the situation under control although Soweto remained tense. The police arrested about 150 people for various offences and confiscated ten illegal fire arms. By the time of going to press, three people were confirmed dead including one in Kagiso since the unrest erupted.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said on Friday that President Jacob Zuma had instructed his Cabinet Security Cluster together with the Gauteng Provincial Government leadership to work together to establish normalcy in Soweto which is home to some 3 million people. Zuma issued the instruction from Switzerland where he was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Zuma’s administration, mindful of the embarrassment it suffered in 2008 when foreign nationals were brutally killed and maimed by marauding crowds, has played down the latest civil disobedience as not an act of xenophobia but “pure criminality”.

Be that as it may, the Gauteng Provincial Government MEC of Economic Development, Lebogang Maile, has admitted that his government was aware of deep seated resentment of business competition from foreigners by locals but condemned the violence.

“Local entrepreneurs in our townships are struggling to compete with foreign nationals who buy goods in bulk and sell at cheaper prices. They also work in clusters,” he said. Maile said locals face financial obstacles hence their inability to compete with foreigners.

“There’s a structural economic problem in our townships which needs to be addressed through integration of township entrepreneurs into the mainstream economy through a systematic approach that is sustainable, “said Maile.

Late last year, the government announced plans to promote Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in the historically disadvantaged townships inhabited by black communities with a view to turn them into engines of economic growth and job creation. This was followed by the first national colloquium on SMMEs in 2014.

Due to high unemployment levels, last year South Africa registered 16 million people as dependent on State social grants double from 8 million beneficiaries in 2001.

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