SOMALI shopkeepers in Gugulethu, nervous about possible xenophobic attacks, met police yesterday to voice their concerns.
“They don`t know when the locals will loot their stores and chase them away,” said Mncedisi Twualo, chairman of the Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) in the Western Cape,.
He and other Somali shopkeepers who went to the Gugulethu police station said that protests from locals and negative sentiment had increased recently, responding in particular to the proliferation of Somali shops in the area.
“They`ll say: `You Somalis, why do you open your stores here?`” said Baska Cusnan, a Somali shopkeeper who has been in South Africa for six years.
“Somalis can stay in the townships and enjoy lives in the townships, but they can`t run shops here – they must run them in town. That`s some of the feelings we`re running into,” Twualo said.
An agreement between the Somali and local communities in August 2009, which the AEC and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Cape Town helped negotiate, had several stipulations for Somali business in the area.
Among them were that Somali stores had to be 100m from local stores, and that Somalis could request to have new shops, “if the opportunity arises”, only if the local community agreed to it.
There must also be uniform price ranges, a ratio of about seven local shops to every three Somali shops, and the sharing of Somali trading expertise and knowledge with the community.
According to Twualo and the Somalis who met with police, some new Somali immigrants are violating the regulations by opening new stores without agreement from the community. Twualo estimated that in some areas there is at least one Somali shop per street.
Cusnan wanted the harassing of Somali shopkeepers to stop.
But he and the other shopkeepers there who have lived in South Africa for years said they didn`t want new shops or new Somalis breaking the rules.
“We (Somalis) work together, stay together – no problem,” he said. “The new shops are a problem.”
The AEC said it would mobilise its members to protect shopkeepers should xenophobic attacks break out.
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