Xenophobic attacks on informal traders in Durban not an isolated incident

Informal traders congregated outside Diakonia centre looking for help from Lawyers for Human Rights and Refugee Social Services. Archive photo by Gaby Bikombo

Xenophobia continues to rear its ugly head without check from the authorities.

Informal traders in Durban say that the recent petrol bombing and destruction of three stalls is only the latest incident in a xenophobic pogrom started in December last year. Speaking to Elitsha from Durban, a 45-year-old informal trader who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons remembers that “it was on the 11th of December that they came to the market”. Those traders who could not give the isiZulu names for an elbow or back of the head were declared foreign and told to pack their stuff as “the market does not belong to foreigners” .

“After the first attack, we went to open a case at the police station and the police provided protection for about two weeks and after the police left, they came back again and it was on the 7th of February. This time around they said they were not going to chase us out of the market but were asking us to pay R20 … They collected R20 from us every week. They said it was for the MK members that were arrested in December” she said.

Yasmin Rajan, the director of Refugee Social Service (RSS), a non-profit organisation that provides pyscho-social and limited material services to refugees and asylum seekers, confirmed that they asked for the protection from the police but it only lasted for two weeks and the attacks soon resumed.

The Congolese trader said that they pay R330 every six months to the municipality. “On the 28th of February they came and we were expecting them to ask for the R20 but things changed. They were destroying our stalls and using the steel poles to beat us up asking us to leave. Even if you agree to leave your stall they would still take your stock and if you resist[ed] they beat you up and you still leave empty-handed.

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“I lost everything, I sell shoes and suitcases and all of those were taken. I had R150 on me and they took that. Most women who were at the market lost everything. The mob was led by men who did not look like thugs, they were clean and well organised,” she said.

An informal trader beaten by the xenophobic mob. Photo supplied

Another Congolese trader estimates his loss resulting from the violence at about R22,000. He sells bedding sets like blankets, duvets, pillows and bedspreads. This week’s attacks were according to him an ambush. “We were not prepared at all. We were sitting in the market and we heard a whistle and people came out of nowhere and they took our stuff and beat us up”, he said.

The 45-year-old trader told Elitsha that after they destroyed the stalls they spraypainted ‘MK’ where the stalls once stood. “We have pictures of all of that”, she said. She estimates her loss at about R14,500.

The informal traders say that after the mob took over the stalls they would brand it ‘MK’. Photos supplied
The MKMVA has distanced itself from the attacks. Photo supplied

The Mkhonto Wesizwe Military Veterans Association in KwaZulu-Natal has distanced itself from the xenophobic attacks.

Yasmin Rajan said that last week’s attack was more brutal. Everytime the mob would remove a migrant trader, they would put a South African in his or her place. She said that about 250 people who were looking for assistance congregated outside the centre where they and Lawyers for Human Rights are based. “On Wednesday, the police made the situation worse. There were stun grenades and rubber bullets used on the people who were complaining that they were pushed out of their sites. They were venting and looking for immediate solution. There was also misplaced anger towards us and the centre asked them to leave and they would not leave and that is when the police acted,” Rajan said.

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KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson, Brigadier Jay Naicker said that the police used stun grenades and rubber bullets after “an employee was attacked by a group of people who were blocking the entrance of Diakonia Place. Police had to use a stun grenade to disperse the unruly crowd,” he said. On the whole situation, Naicker commented, “The situation is quiet today, police are maintaining a high visibility whilst ensuring that law enforcement is taking place.”

The flea market after the mob ransacked the stalls on the 28th of February. Photo supplied

Rajan blamed government policies as well as some political parties for the xenophobic violence in the country and in KZN. “A whole range of policies that come from government are making it difficult for people to survive and remain in this country. If you look at Put South Africa First group and you look at action that happened against foreign truck drivers and you have your political parties talking about porous borders and talking about illegal immigrants and how they are the reason for all of the things that are going wrong in our country. Then you can see how this builds up and make the public believe that it’s foreigners who are to blame,” she said.

“We have so many issues with Home Affairs. For example, the closure of the Refugee Reception offices [means] people are not able to get documents. The Department of Home Affairs has not opened since the 15th of March last year and people can’t get their documents,” Rajan said.

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