Stone-throwing mobs protesting against poor service delivery lash out at Asian shopkeepers
Sunday Times, 20 Feb 2005
Mohammed was lucky. His general dealership in Phomolong escaped
unscathed as stone-throwing youths ran amok in the northern Free State
township this week, targeting and looting Asian-owned businesses.
on either side of the Mohammed Café & Market were attacked. Windows
were smashed and the owners were forced to flee under police guard in
armoured vehicles as hundreds of rioters pillaged their wares.
Mohammed, 26, was the last to leave. On Wednesday, as police kept
watch on a crowd of curious onlookers, he supervised the removal of
goods from his shop, saying he hoped to return once calm was restored.
The attacks on shops owned by Chinese, Bangladeshi and
Pakistani businessmen were part of a "strategic plan", said Sinde
Nhlapo, the local Democratic Alliance branch chairman and member of the
Phomolong Youth and Community Concerned Group.
Nhlapo, who serves on the group's "committee of 12" – the
driving force behind protests over poor service delivery in the
township – did not attempt to conceal his loathing of the "foreigners".
"I hate those people. They harass our bambinos, the small
children. Their intention is to disturb the local economy. They don't
bank their money; they don't pay tax. Really, I don't like them. Those
people are too proud of money.
"They don't wash and if you enter their shop you have a breathing problem because the smell closes up your nose."
Nhlapo said demonstrators in Phomolong had taken their cue from
similar attacks last week on shops in the small town of Ventersburg,
which straddles the N1 highway about 14km from Phomolong.
On Monday, in the wake of the Ventersburg looting, Free State Premier Beatrice Marshoff visited its township, Mmamahabane.
Phomolong community leaders then accused her of snubbing them.
She rejected the claim, saying that she had not been invited to Phomolong.
saw at Ventersburg that before Marshoff comes, vandalism has to take
place," said Nhlapo. "So we thought that because [protesters in]
Ventersburg vandalised the property of those people, we have to apply
the very same method in order to get her attention."
Mohammed, a naturalised South African citizen who emigrated
from Pakistan eight years ago, said he understood the protesters'
"They just wanted to make news so someone could come from the
top to deal with the problems here. [Marshoff] only went to Ventersburg
and that's why people got angry and broke things," Mohammed said.
On Tuesday, when the mob came, he confronted them. "There must
have been 7000 or 8000 people in this square. I spoke to them and asked
them if they had any complaint about me, if I had done anything to
them. They left me alone."
Perhaps it was because he lived in the township or that he
addressed them in Sotho. Whatever it was, the protesters turned their
attention to neighbouring businesses.
"I am a friend of the people," Mohammed said. "It is important
to talk to them in their home language. The other shop owners don't
talk to the people."
As the last goods were loaded onto his truck and the tailgate
was slammed shut, an elderly woman said softly: "Go well, my son."
Another woman urged him to stay.
Mpise Xabadiya, 28, said most residents of Phomolong were ANC
supporters. He said they were becoming increasingly disenchanted with
the party. "This is not a DA thing. I am an ANC member. We are sick and
tired of the problems. The ANC wants us to beg for things, but they are
in power because of us."
So far, 19 teenagers from the area have been arrested and
charged with public violence. Police reinforcements from Gauteng and
KwaZulu-Natal have been called in.
Tensions between demonstrators and the police came to ahead on Tuesday as a jeering crowd watched a policeman die.
At about 4.30pm, a stone-throwing mob of 300 people attacked a
police convoy. Members of the Bloemfontein Area Crime Combating Unit
gave chase and arrested a number of suspects.
Then Inspector Simon Makhoba, 39, suddenly collapsed after
suffering a heart attack. As members of his unit tried desperately to
save him, the jeering mob crowded around.
Said Nhlapo: "The people rejoiced because they say that guy
died while intending to harass and victimise the students. It is a good
thing, because it was a blessing in disguise. God was not happy."
Captain David Victor, Makhoba's commander, said he was
appalled at the crowd's callousness. "The whole time we were busy with
emergency treatment, we had to fend them off because they were getting
very aggressive. While we were trying to save this guy's life, they
shouted comments and insults at us.
"When the paramedics said he was dead and we put him in a body
bag the crowd cheered. It is difficult to believe that people can be