Warnings of renewed unrest threatening to break out again in downtown Polokwane yesterday (Wednesday) morning pointed at a volatile situation resulting in foreigners allegedly being under attack and property destroyed, amid claims of the Police and local municipality having ignored accumulating tension over a reigning state of anarchy in the area for an extensive period of time.
The institution of a case of public violence and malicious damage to property case stems from a reported series of incidents of unrest that has been gripping a portion of the lower part of the Central Business District (CBD) since the beginning of the week. Polokwane Observer Editor Yolande Nel and Assistant Editor RC Myburgh count among the complainants in the matter of public violence and malicious damage to property after being attacked for their cameras, a tablet, a cell phone and an ID document during mob justice related to the unrest in the area on Tuesday morning. The pair was accosted by approximately 40 men suspected of violently preventing them from leaving with images that could identify them in acts widely perceived to be xenophobia-related. A request for assistance from a Police official fell on deaf ears.
Fire brigade performs duties under Police protection
Scores of Police vehicles and fire trucks lined the perimeter of the scene off the intersection of Boom and Rissik Streets where a huge contingent of on-lookers gathered. It was later learnt that fire fighters had to perform their duty under Police protection after vehicles were allegedly being gutted.
Afterwards when making statements at Polokwane Police Station, another victim attested to the windscreen and windows of his vehicle being smashed and an amount of
R3 600 and his identity document being taken along the same stretch that morning.
Despite earlier unconfirmed reports of xenophobia-related attacks in Polokwane the past two weeks, the first incident occurred on Monday evening with the attack of a Somalian citizen who was seemingly involved in an accident with a taxi on the corners of Rissik and Onder Streets. According to a source, whom Polokwane Observer opts to protect by not revealing the name, he was attacked by six men while statements were still being obtained at the scene.
At the time of going to press the Provincial Police said in a statement forwarded by Moatshe Ngoepe that no suspects had been arrested as yet for public violence and malicious damage to property that occurred along Boom Street and surrounds emanating from conflict between two rival groups between Monday and Tuesday. According to the Police in Limpopo the motive behind the conflict was still unknown and that investigations would tell.
When speaking to Polokwane Observer on Tuesday morning, a Polokwane-based Eritrean businessman, whose name is being withheld, labelled the attacks as pure acts of xenophobia. He said incidents of xenophobia were masquerading as the so-called cleaning up of alleged drug dealers but in actual fact the perpetrators used the opportunity to rob people. “It’s pure xenophobia given a right hand by the political forces.” Asked to elaborate, he said when concerns were being raised there was no more going to the Police but that one rather went to the relevant taxi association to negotiate.
By then clouds of black smoke that billowed into the air attracted attention to a scenario sparked by the attack of Monday evening. Ironically Nel, accompanied by Myburgh to the area stretching between Boom and Buite Streets late Monday, was busy conducting interviews based on leads about harrowing living conditions in a densely populated quarter and growing discontent with the situation on both sides of the xenophobic barrier when the attack occurred.
The first interview that afternoon was with a local businessman alluding to the fact that the CBD had become inaccessible to visitors from most cultures due to crime-related activities dictating life in that part of the city. He explained that the lower part of the CBD where his business is located was being occupied by locals and foreigners from countries such as Somalia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, the Sudan and Bangladesh. He named two South Africans allegedly known for terrorising that part of town through a host of crimes, varying from remote car jamming and incidents of smashing and grabbing to business burglaries and targeting victims at ATMs. Due to crime business has dropped over the past decade, during which period the situation had worsened, he reckoned. According to him business was largely being conducted illegally. He added that acts of prostitution were committed in broad daylight. The opinion was expressed that a blind eye was being turned to what was happening and that the area was not being cleaned up.
Crime structures highly organised
One of two sources identifying hotspots along Boom to Buite streets stressed the fact that crime structures in the area were highly organised. Whistle-blowers highlighting illegal acts linked to crime lords who seemingly controlled the area and in turn were closely associated with Police officials, were seen to be dealt with accordingly, the one source stressed. Whoever alerted the Police about a matter would run the risk of getting hurt, he emphasised.
Challenges posed by overpopulation Monday evening’s visit highlighted overpopulation of a section of the city swamped with, among others, questionable operations conducted from dilapidated buildings, women allegedly acting as prostitutes idly occupying plastic chairs on sidewalks, suspected drug dealers lurking in parked cars, unattended minors roaming the streets on their own and people occupying vastly overcrowded accommodation in run-down houses, structures and shacks in backyards that contribute to lucrative rental propositions. Illegal connections to the city’s electricity supply was reportedly the norm. One such instance of a rates bill of a particular house occupied by scores of inhabitants pushing up electricity usage to beyond R100 000 without services being terminated was brought to Polokwane Observer’s attention.
Boom Street in specific was described as home to foreign citizens who also conducted business from the buildings they occupied for domestic purposes.
Some 40 inhabitants occupy premises
The last interview was conducted with three occupants of a shack of some 4 m² in a backyard for which they paid monthly rental of R550 per head, including water and electricity consumption. The yard was overcrowded with, among others, four shacks and two caravans. They estimated 40 people, of which the majority was students, living there from time to time. The area wasn’t safe with a lot of thieves targeting the area, particularly after dark, a young woman said. The interview was, however, interrupted by disturbance in the street caused by havoc emanating from community members seemingly giving chase as the foreigner was being attacked. Afterwards Polokwane Observer was inundated with photos of victims of foreign descent allegedly attacked and vehicles smashed.
Political structures assess situation
At the time of going to press it was established that by then representatives of alliance partners and affiliated structures in the province were gathered in the area to assess the situation. They had an appointment to meet a component of foreigners and the leadership of a taxi association whom they still had to locate, said a source.
Story: Editorial team