Reported xenophobia attacks in DV the tip of an iceberg

Image: FILE

 Foreign shop keepers are under siege from violent criminals in Duncan Village and many now fear for their lives.

Several spaza shops owned by foreign nationals in the area have repeatedly been robbed and some have been torched.

The worst such attack saw a shopkeeper stabbed to death after his shop was set alight by robbers last month.

The most recent attack occurred on Tuesday night when a container-shop was set on fire.

Shop owner Tagese Arbeto, who is of Ethiopian origin, said his assistant was inside the container when several thugs banged on it demanding he open up.

“The shopkeeper kept quiet and did not open,” Arbeto said.

Arbeto said moments later, the robbers threw petrol in through a hole and set the shop alight, forcing the assistant to flee.

“When the assistant came out, they searched him and took all the money and his cellphone. Others put the fire out and started taking stock,” he said.

It was not the first time Arbeto has experienced this kind of arson attack. Another of his shops in C Section, Duncan Village was set alight on November 12. He said those robbers made off with cash and destroyed stock worth more than R50,000.

Another of his shops was robbed in broad daylight on December 23 after a gang of seven armed thugs arrived at the shop at about 10.30am.

“Five of them had guns. I was outside the shop with my friends when the incident happened. They pointed guns at us and ordered the assistant to open,” Arbeto said. The gang made off with phones, money and groceries.

It was just four days later that an assistant, whose name was not known by his employer, was killed, apparently after he refused to open a container-shop to a group of thugs. They then allegedly set fire to the shop.

A neighbour, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the Dispatch she'd heard a commotion at about 11pm on the night of December 27.

“When we went out to investigate, the shopkeeper was lying in pool of blood,” she said.

The owner of the shop, Ethiopian national Bakala Bubamo, said when he arrived he found his shop in flames and his employee dead.

“I am suffering now. I have nothing. The South African government is failing us. We are just on our own against armed robbers,” Bubamo said.

He said he had been traumatised by crime in SA.

Scars on his stomach were a constant reminder of the day he nearly lost his life when his shop was robbed in 2018. He was shot three times in the stomach and spent six months recovering in hospital.

“I am still traumatised by that incident,” he said.

Tagesse Lieso Nuramo fell victim to robbers on Boxing Day.

He was outside his shop when four men arrived. Two brandished guns and a third was armed with  a knife.

“They instructed me to tell the assistant who was inside the shop to open, or they would kill all of us. I opened the shop, and they took all the money and our cellphones,” he said.

A week-long Daily Dispatch investigation revealed that these horror stories were but the tip of an iceberg and there had been many more such robberies at Duncan Village spaza shops owned by foreign nationals.

But at least five shops in the area owned by South Africans did not experience similar problems.

“I have been running this shop for more than five years; I have never been robbed,” said the owner of one of these shops, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Dr Steven Gordon, a researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council, blamed violent attacks on immigrants on the spread of negative information about migration.

“There are rumours that foreign nationals commit crime, steal jobs, and are bad for the economy. These kinds of misinformation, based on stereotypes and not on evidence, can often make foreign nationals appear to be parasites,”  Gordon said.

He said much more could be done to educate the public and “dispel such rumours”. 

Police said five suspects had been arrested. According to the police's provincial spokesperson, Captain Khaya Tonjeni, the suspects would be profiled, “to determine their possible involvement in previous cases of crime that have been committed in the area of Duncan Village and surrounding areas”.