The sound of rubber bullets and stun grenades rang out in the vicinity of a Seshego flashpoint early yesterday (Wednesday) morning as Police maintained strategic deployment to avoid a repetition of Friday’s unrest in the light of the continuation of mass revolt against Zuma rule.
Provincial Police Corporate Communications Head Motlafela Mojapelo informed Polokwane Observer at the time of going to press that members of the Public Order Policing Unit and the Seshego Crime Prevention Unit had dispersed a crowd intending to stage a march and attempting to barricade a street in Zone 1 Extension, about four blocks from Seshego circle which was the nucleus of Friday’s unrest, at around 07:00. As the group didn’t have permission to march they were stopped in their tracks and their leaders agreed to meet with the Police to discuss application for staging a peaceful march in future, it was learnt. Mojapelo indicated he couldn’t speculate on the reasons for the intended march.
Early morning a commuter using transport from Seshego to town said he had witnessed how shops at the new mall situated off the circle were targeted by thugs who used the opportunity to commit theft and cause damage.
In the meantime the highly volatile situation sparked by xenophobic acts resulting in an international crisis the past two weeks has foreigners living in fear of stirrings of tell-tale signs, brutal attack and the horrors of necklacing.
With the magnitude and prevalence of incidents associated with xenophobia not witnessed in Polokwane before, the attack of foreigners allegedly orchestrated by mobs of locals – travelling by taxi and armed with any conceivable weapon – has components of foreign presence in the city anxious about further attack and concerned about reprisal.
The occurrence of xenophobic attacks terrorising Nigerian nationals in Polokwane, of which the latest reportedly resulted in the death of auto mechanic Razak Ajao in a taxi rank on the corner of Devenish and Buite streets in the Central Business District (CBD) last Thursday, apparently formed the basis for a meeting between representatives of the Nigerian Consulate and High Commission and the Nigerian Union South Africa with the Police in Polokwane before entering into discussions with their countrymen living in the city.
Concern about retaliation
In an interview with Collins Mgbo who is the Secretary of the Nigerian Union South Africa in Limpopo, Polokwane Observer was informed that it was the third meeting they had attended since the first of ten attacks on Nigerians in the city starting in mid-March this year. Nothing came of the first two meetings, he said and he expressed the hope that the Police would keep to the undertaking of monitoring the situation and protect the Nigerian community in Polokwane.
At the time they were also awaiting response on discussions between the two countries after South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Department and its High Commissioner in Nigeria have been engaged on the issues, said Mgbo. He simultaneously expressed concern about retaliation against South African corporates in Nigeria after the Polokwane attacks, which would escalate the situation in return.
Mgbo confirmed that the first attack on a Nigerian national occurred in Ivy Park on 14 March, explaining that he was at Westenburg Police Station for the institution of the case that day when receiving information about another incident on the corner of Rissik and Onder streets. Upon his arrival he had discovered that a mob had already placed a tyre around the neck of a fellow-Nigerian and when they noticed him they gave chase, Mgbo said. He managed to escape, although his vehicle was hit by a taxi in the process, he added.
Defying the premise that their community was fraught with drug dealers, he indicated the acts seemingly gave rise to the inclination of thugs looking for those responsible for the distribution of drugs and taking their women. He said it was unthinkable that they were committing crime and referred to a doctor, an academic, a Science teacher and entrepreneurs resorting among the victims. In the same vein he stressed that their organisation is against crime and condemned any form of illegality. They have discussed the establishment of a task team to help fight crime, if the community would agree to it.
While authorities and some foreigner representatives in the city have been careful to label it acts of hatred against aliens, Mgbo didn’t hesitate to name it xenophobia.
Some of the photos displaying the level of violence of the attacks that were afterwards made available to Polokwane Observer were of a too graphic nature, hence the decision to withhold publication thereof.
Ugandan businessman relives attack
Across the spectrum foreigners had similar stories to tell. By Tuesday the city centre tavern of a Ugandan national was still not operational after an attack last Wednesday around 15:00, when scores of attackers reportedly hit on pre-identified foreigners in Ladanna and in town. He had suffered losses of around R200 000 in damages when his personal belongings, an estimated
R25 000 in cash, a laptop, computer and a speed point device as well as stock were looted, while window panes, furniture and the shop counter were demolished by an approximate 300 people who arrived at his business by taxi, he said. They had been armed with pangas, hammers, knives, sjamboks and iron bars, he recalled. The previous day he had received threats from about five to eight persons who showed up at the tavern at 21:00. On Wednesday morning another about 50 people showed up looking for Nigerians selling nyaope, he mentioned.
The business owner said he could see no reason for the attack other than it being xenophobic in nature. He expressed the opinion that the Police and the government were reluctant to intervene in the matter. He had always cooperated with the Police when conducting drug-related operations, which he welcomed, he said. According to him having lived in Polokwane for the past 11 years he considered it a safe place, but now feared for his life. He didn’t have anywhere else to go and it wasn’t possible to return to his country of birth, he concluded.
Somalian businesses attacked
The provincial chairperson of the committee representing the Somali Community in Limpopo, Dahir Hassan said based on information received an estimated ten shops of Somalian business owners in Extension 44 and Zone 1 in Seshego had been broken into and looted while closed during Friday’s unrest in the settlement.
On Tuesday the situation was calm, but they were fearing what yesterday’s promise of possible unrest in Seshego could hold, Hassan indicated. He said their people were concerned about the situation which was never expected to happen. “Polokwane is no longer safe.”
Provincial Government comment
Phuti Seloba on behalf of the Provincial Government said they were worried about the tendency of xenophobic attacks which undermined their efforts to develop the province. “You can’t have development happening in a chaotic and violent environment.” Seloba simultaneously expressed concern about a possible civil war situation that could be the result of foreign nationals, of whom some are married to South Africans, and their relatives avenging the attacks. He stressed that it was very important that South Africans refrained from violence. He emphasised that the tendency plunged the province into an extremely dangerous situation that had to be condemned.
He gave the assurance that those counter revolutionary elements wanting to undo all the good the Provincial Government was doing, would be arrested. Anyone taking law into their own hands was considered a criminal and would have to be dealt with as such, he reiterated. Seloba added that Limpopo had a highly capable Police service that could deal with drug dealers without every foreign national being targeted for suspected involvement in drug-related operations. He pointed out that it was important for those with information about such deeds to approach the Police, or otherwise the Independent Police Investigative Directorate with complaints about Police conduct.
He said returning to a peaceful Limpopo would be a journey the province would have to travel and that the Provincial Government was determined to regain that status. In this regard he referred to a revival of community policing forums and a monitoring of the justice and security cluster.
On Thursday Provincial Police furnished a summary of successes from Operation Back To Basics “especially focussing on the mushrooming of drugs” that was conducted in the Polokwane CBD, surrounding suburbs and industrial areas on Monday, as intervention efforts in the recent attacks on business people (see story elsewhere).
Story: YOLANDE NEL