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Xenophobic violence and looting in Grahamstown

About 500 shopkeepers and their family members who have immigrated from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Somalia have been forced to abandon their businesses and flee for their lives after they came under attack from residents in the greater Grahamstown area last week. There were more confirmed cases of looting this Monday.



The violence was sparked allegedly by six “muti” murders, five of the victims being women. Unsubstantiated allegations have been made by locals that a shopkeeper from Pakistan was involved.

According to a statement by the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), the violence which started on Thursday was instigated by local taxi associations painting ‘They Must Go’ and ‘They Must Burn’ on their taxis.

Initially aimed at Muslims working in the town and Joza township, looting and destruction of property quickly spread to include all non-South African shopkeepers by Thursday afternoon.

Making no attempt to save shops, SAPS provided some support to shopkeepers by keeping looters at bay while the businessmen tried to leave with as much of their stock as possible.

Photo: SABC Breaking News

Dane (surname withheld) removes goods from his shop while it is protected by police. Photo: SABC Breaking News

An estimated 300 shops were looted across town, affecting mostly the township areas with the shopkeepers taking refuge at a number of undisclosed “safe houses”.

According to Patricia May of the UPM, who has been working to try and dispel the violence since last week, “the problem is that people are scared and rumours are running too strong”.

Photo: Mia Van Der Merwe

Photo: Mia Van Der Merwe

After three days of violence, an urgent meeting between the acting city manager and the mayor as well as representatives from the displaced shopkeepers was called. Police did not attend. Representatives of the displaced shopkeepers requested they not be referred to a foreigners since they are living in South Africa legally.

This article was first published by GroundUp and is republished here with their permission.