East Rand: Thousands loot, torch as shooting sparks xenophobia

protest3Thousands of East Rand residents shut down their schools and ordered children to loot and torch stores belonging to foreigners.

Four teenagers were critically injured in shootouts with foreign shop owners on Thursday and a fifth youth was severely assaulted.

The bloodshed erupted in Duduza township late on Wednesday when a Somali shop owner shot a 17-year-old boy during an argument over a R5 cellphone airtime voucher. Unconfirmed reports say the youth died. Police are investigating but could not verify the reports.

The shooting sparked outrage, sending thousands of people onto the streets.

The unrest spread to the neighbouring Tsakane township, where people torched homes, destroyed vehicles and forced scores of Somalis, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to flee.

People armed with knobkerries and iron bars set fire to businesses before converging on schools, forcing teachers to flee and dragging children out of classrooms. They were said to be forcing schoolchildren to join in the violence.

Riot police rushed to restore order as the rampaging mob, splitting into small groups, went through the townships “hunting” for foreigners.

“We are going to kill them . We are going to burn everything they have and take what they cannot run away with,” screamed Tsakane resident Nomhle Mbatha, as her neighbour, Hassan Ali, rushed to load his shop’s stock onto a bakkie.

“They come here and steal our jobs and now they are killing our children,” said Mbatha. “We will not allow this. The police do nothing and the government is nowhere.”

Ali’s brother, Mohammed, tears streaming down his face, pleaded with the police to protect their shop: “If you don’t, they will burn everything. We did not cause this. We are innocent. I am sorry that boy was shot, but why punish us? We didn’t do this.

“We help these people. Just there we have a soup kitchen where we feed the old people and the children,” he said. As Ali pleaded for help, fresh reports of looting and burning came over police radios.

For Mohamad Yusuf, the police arrived too late.

“I have lost everything. There was a clinic here, owned by South Africans, but even that is destroyed. Why are they doing this?’ he said. “People are cross with foreigners because this boy was shot, but what are we meant to do? The police are nowhere. They don’t help the South Africans and they don’t help us.

“Everyone is suffering. Look at the children who were shot today. They attacked our shops and businesses, what must we do?

“We have to defend ourselves. They were trying to kill us,” Yusuf said as police guarded firefighters battling to douse the fire destroying his shop.

Ekurhuleni disaster and emergency services spokesman William Ntladi confirmed that four teenagers had been shot and critically injured and a fifth severely assaulted.

“We deployed dozens of firefighters and paramedics. As we were putting out fires, more were started. Cars, houses, a shopping complex and numerous businesses were torched. We are expecting more trouble and have additional personnel on standby,” he said.

Police spokesman Captain Johannes Ramphara described the situation as chaotic.

“It is total lawlessness . We thought it would calm down but residents continued breaking up into groups, closing schools and forcing children onto the streets.”

He said five people had been arrested and police were investigating cases of public violence, intimidation and attempted murder. – timeslive.co.za