Night of looting a big cost to workers

Angry residents turned on foreign owned shops after the police closed illegal shebeens in the area. Photo by Sinethemba Mbewana

The future of the grocery store that was looted and burned on Saturday night in Samora Machel is uncertain and its employees might lose their jobs.

Sixty workers and their families face a bleak future after a grocery store that they worked in was looted and burned in Samora Machel township over the weekend. Savemor grocery store was one of the shops looted and burned on Saturday night.

“They took everything they could lay their hands on including till roll, scales and the back up stock that we kept in the containers outside. The loss and the damage to the building we estimate that it is in excess of R15-million. Sixty workers are now not sure if they are going to have jobs in the future. I also do not know if I will have a job come next week,” said Savemor store manager, King Khanye.

According to Khanye, they received a distress call from the alarm system at around 22:30 and when he arrived, the doors of the shop were still intact and the police and the army were in the area, so he returned back home. “Before I could get to Khayelitsha, I got a call that they were looting the shop and the cops and the army that was there was gone,” Khanye said.

Samora Machel Community Police Forum spokesperson, Bongani Maqungwana, said the looting started as a protest after the police and the army targeted and closed illegal shebeens in the area: “There is a shebeen that started to operate four months ago and the owner was not happy that he was made to close. Different groups of people who were kicked out of the shebeens that evening started to organise themselves and they blocked the roads. They also went to block the R300.”

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Siphamandla Magobiyane was one of the victims of the angry mob. Magobiyane was travelling with his uncle on the R300 when they were pelted with stones. “They had already blocked the road with stones and rubble and we drove into the barricade and they started to shoot at us. We ran away and that is when they burned the car,” he said.

Last month, in an operation in the Johannesburg city centre, the police raided shops and street vendors looking for counterfeit goods. Most of the street vendors are foreign nationals from Africa and Asia. According to the police, hundreds of millions of rands worth of counterfeit goods, and equipment to manufacture counterfeit merchandise, were confiscated and over 600 undocumented migrants were arrested in the raids. The mob looting in Cape Town was similarly preceded by an operation of law enforcement with police and customs services raiding stores around Makhaza Mall and foreign nationals that did not have operating licences and work permits were arrested.

“In the history of democratic South Africa I have never heard of an evening protest that ended well. The organisers should have known that the protest was gonna end in violence,” said Maqungwana.

The police confirmed the looting of the shops: “The police intervention saw a total of 25 people arrested for looting a local chain grocery store, where extensive damage was caused. Several smaller shops were also targeted by protesting community members. An additional five people were arrested for being in possession of groceries and a deep freezer when houses were searched in the area. The suspects are all due to make their respective court appearances in Athlone this week,” said police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut. He added that two fatalities were reported during the protest.

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Video showing the extent of damage inside the shop by Sinethemba Cawe

The Savemor manager said he spent the whole night at the police station as he was not allowed to go to the store. “We heard at around 05:00 in the morning that the store was on fire,” Khanye said. There was lack of coordination and leadership from the police in dealing with what was happening, in his opinion. “They were more concerned about processing the arrests than going to the shops and camp out there to prevent further looting,” he said.

Two days after the night of mayhem, the streets of the Cape township were littered with debris from burnt tyres and rubbish bags. Khanye said most of the workers employed at Savemor come from the township and are breadwinners. It was not only the shops that were looted and damaged, but also ATMs outside the shop look like they were petrol bombed. “Now there are no bank services for the community and now they have to go to the nearby suburb of Colorado to draw money. This has inconvenienced the community in a big way,” said the CPF’s Maqungwana.

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