A task team comprising various role players has been established to monitor the situation in downtown Polokwane after last week’s incidents that resulted in the alleged attack of foreign citizens.
In the meantime the Police investigation into an alleged series of attacks related to unrest in a portion of the Central Business District (CBD) in the beginning of last week continues. There are no arrests as yet and thus far three criminal cases have been registered.
Provincial Police spokesperson Moatshe Ngoepe informed Polokwane Observer that no arrests had been made as yet and that investigations were continuing. Up to Monday three cases relating to the incidents had been registered, he said. Ngoepe further indicated that it was not possible to tell how many suspects were involved as yet, neither did they have evidence to prove that the incidents were related to xenophobia.
Ngoepe confirmed the existence of a task team composed of crime prevention and communications officers, detectives, municipal officials tasked with community safety, taxi operators, the community as well as hawkers and traders in the area to deal with challenges in downtown Polokwane around Bok, Boom, Onder and Buite streets. “Presently we are monitoring and patrolling the area and it is still quiet.”
A low growl-like hum produced by an approaching mass reportedly armed with stones, pangas, sticks, sjamboks and matches was the precursor to a series of alleged attacks that occurred in downtown Polokwane last Tuesday morning, it was learnt. The reported looting and stoning that ensued, set fire to a quarter of the city mostly occupied by foreigners, hailed for having harboured South Africans in exile in their country while engaged in the struggle for liberation years back.
The attacks were initially widely perceived to be related to xenophobia, sparked by the first incident on Monday evening when a Somalian man was allegedly assaulted by six men after an accident with a taxi on the corners of Onder and Rissik streets. But the Polokwane-based provincial chairperson of the committee representing the Somali Community in Limpopo, Dahir Hassan preferred to describe it not exactly as such, although his fellow-countrymen and other foreigners were seen to be targeted.
In an interview with Polokwane Observer on Friday he referred to Monday evening’s accident causing a misunderstanding that led to taxi drivers fighting with Somalian business owners. After the alleged assault on Monday evening all seemed to be fine still, until Tuesday at around 09:00 when a crowd of hundreds converged on Boom Street, he remarked. The specific densely populated stretch is known for its concentration of Somalian nationals.
Revisiting the warning that came in the form of an ascending noise produced by the approaching mass of an uncountable number – first spotted by one of his countrymen that morning – Hassan expressed the thought that he feared he was going to be attacked. He recalled how they ran for safety, hiding in houses in the vicinity until the Police arrived. ”Without the Police we were in trouble.”
For the duration of the explosive flare-ups Somalians had left their homes out of fear of the situation and went into hiding at the houses of friends in a nearby suburb, he said, until last Thursday afternoon when he indicated that the situation was calm and allowed their return.
In the process two bakkies valued at an estimated R160 000 and R60 000 respectively and the property of Somalians, were allegedly burnt to ashes and five more vehicles damaged. In the meantime three shops of Somalian traders in Boom Street, Extension 44 and Luthuli Park were looted, he indicated. In those incidents two Somalians and an Ethiopian were injured, it was learnt.
At the time of the interview all was perceived to be calm, the situation was being monitored and businesses that were closed from Monday to Wednesday were operating as usual again.
Hassan stressed that he had met with the secretary of a local taxi association after gaining information that “people were going to finish the rest that was left on Tuesday”, resulting in the taxi association condemning what happened, its representative meeting with members of the Somalian and Ethiopian communities that same day and guaranteeing their safety.
Before last week’s incidents Polokwane was considered the safest place in the entire South Africa, explained Hassan. The father of seven who owns a grocery shop in the area and has been living in the country for 20 years, emphasised the importance of building relationships of integration where they settled.
The situation in the lower part of the Central Business District prompted political structures to move into the area to assess the situation and offer the necessary assistance last week. During an interview on Friday Percy Adams, who represented the Winrainbow branch of the African National Congress (ANC) referred to an earlier call made on radio to the community of Limpopo to condemn what was happening and to guard Somalians, whom he said gave South Africans shelter in the past until they managed to overcome their politically-related challenges. “That is why we allow them here.”
He expressed dismay at what he referred to as a terrible situation, saying that it was the first time that Somalians were attacked in Polokwane.
He referred to the establishment of a task team headed by the Police to monitor the area between Boom and Buite Streets to ensure calm and identify any suspicious elements for the next three months. He appealed to taxi drivers to assist them by becoming their eyes and ears.
Story & photos: YOLANDE NEL