Foreign traders in Diepsloot say they’re scapegoats for crime

A number of shop owners have been killed this year, including Zalaka Haybano, Dagale Ertiro, Charnat Basha and Tadela Diga.

After weeks of protests against high levels of crime rocked Diepsloot, the situation has calmed down. But immigrant shop owners, mostly from Ethiopia, Somalia and Bangladesh, say they are still being targeted by people in the community and scapegoated for crime in general.

Their businesses were looted during the protests and several shops completely destroyed. Most foreign shop owners live with their families in Diepsloot. They say they are not given an opportunity to defend themselves or be heard by the community.

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Since 20 June, police and department of home affairs officials have conducted almost daily raids, arresting and detaining people, even when their asylum and refugee documents are in order, they say. They allege they are forced to pay bribes before they are released.

‘Protection money

Some Ethiopian restaurants were also recently closed by the authorities for operating illegally. Ethiopian community representative Daniel Sherrif, who also owns restaurants and a grocery shop, said they have 311 shops in Diepsloot.

“As owners, we had a meeting with community representatives to have them protect our shops… For the past few years, each shop paid R300 per month.”

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He said shop owners also contributed to funerals in the community and gave food parcels to poor people. But all this had made no difference.

“We are not criminals but fathers with families to look after,” said Sherrif.

“When the police come, we are meant to feel happy and protected, but instead they take advantage to make money out of us. They accuse us of having fake documents, yet most of us are refugees and asylum seekers.

“The officers who demand money from us are the same people working at the Diepsloot police station. Reporting to them about their own crimes makes no sense.”

‘Things not easy’

Another Ethiopian community representative, Desta Markos, said the protection fees had not kept their shops safe. He said they were targeted because many do not have bank accounts and keep cash on their premises.

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A number of shop owners have been killed this year, including Zalaka Haybano, Dagale Ertiro, Charnat Basha and Tadela Diga.

“We are not safe in this community. If it’s not community members accusing us of crime and looting our shops, it’s robbers who specifically target immigrant shops and police who terrorise our brothers, taking money,” said Markos.

“It’s been years of suffering in Diepsloot. Things are not easy, mostly because we can’t renew papers. Where do we run to, this has been our home for many years?”

Immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers said they have been struggling to renew their documents at the Desmond Tutu Refugee Centre since the Covid lockdown in 2020. They say they submit through the online renewal system, but never receive a response.

“Operating a business is not a crime, but we are accused and arrested. What are we supposed to do?” asked restaurant owner Tadios Anoye. He said he was arrested last week and his restaurant closed down. He said he had applied for a permit years ago but has never received a response.

Diepsloot police commander Brigadier Koena Moichela said: “There is an ongoing operation against illegal immigrants as part of our anti-crime operations.”

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He said people with expired documents were released after verification by home affairs that the documents were legitimate. Moichela said bribery should be reported and people could report this to him personally.

‘Jealousy in Diepsloot’

Clifford Dube of the Diepsloot Community Traders Forum, said the problem was jealousy from certain community representatives.

“We have foreigners who are doing productive businesses but are accused of taking away business opportunities. Those coming from other countries assist each other in terms of buying power, which locals cannot do.

“In some cases, this has sparked envy and jealousy among those community members who then target immigrants.”

Home affairs had not responded to questions by the time of publishing.

This article was republished from GroundUp. Read original article here

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Diepsloot xenophobia xenophobic attacks