An elderly property owner said she had no other choice but to support residents calling on foreigners to leave the country, even though she rented out a room to a foreign business owner.
This follows an increase in tensions between shop owners and residents in Soweto.
On Wednesday evening, foreign-owned shops were targeted in the areas of White City, Zola, Rockville, Dobsonville, Emdeni, and Moletsane, as residents helped themselves to goods and other belongings in the stores.
Esther Mhlanga, 80, told News24 that she rented out a room to a man called Alex who, according to her, originates from Ethiopia and has legal documents.
She said the man operated a supermarket and paid her monthly rent of R400 for the place situated on Lithabi Street in White City.
“Even though he makes a lot of money from his business, the amount he pays me is minimal, but it makes a difference for me,” she said.
Mhlanga said everything was normal on Wednesday morning until the afternoon, when word spread that some residents were looting shops.
She said the rumour was that the looting was in “revenge” for what had happened in the Johannesburg CBD two weeks ago.
On August 1, shop owners in the CBD pelted police officers with stones, forcing them to leave the area. Police were due to conduct raids for counterfeit goods sold from the shops when the owners clashed with them.
Mhlanga added that there were no opportunities for youngsters to express their anger further, which is why she thought the lootings happened.
“When our children say they do not want foreign nationals around, there is nothing I can do but to agree with them. I am elderly now. There is nothing I can do to help him.
“However, if they (shop owners) leave, it would be nice for the government to at least create job opportunities for them (youth) so that they do not roam around the streets,” Mhlanga said.
She added that a lack of jobs was the main reason youngsters were involved in drugs.
Mhlanga said her tenant, who had sought refuge inside her house following the lootings, had left in the early hours of Thursday to stay with his brother who was believed to own a spaza in Lenasia.
“I also think they must go. If I say they must stay, then I will also get into trouble with these children. There is, unfortunately, nothing more I can do.”
The events of Wednesday night have been met with mixed reactions, as some residents believe it was unfair for foreign businesses in the township to be attacked for the sins of those operating in the CBD.
“These shop owners are helpful in our community. Sometimes they even loan food to residents. What happened in the CBD has nothing to do with Soweto,” Bontle Moralo said. Another resident, Mantso Moralo, who is from Moroka North, added that she was shocked to see young children involved in the lootings.
“I think whoever instigated these lootings was just a criminal. When I asked them what was happening, they just laughed and said, ‘We want food’, although they were alleging that it’s counterfeit goods,” she said.
News24 was unable to locate the owners of the looted shops on Thursday, as they are believed to have moved to areas of safety.
At least seven people were arrested in Jabulani, Soweto, for public violence and looting, police spokesperson Kay Makhubele said.
He said another person was arrested for attempted murder and two others for possession of a stolen vehicle.
Makhubele said the police were continuing to monitor the area and raid areas where looters were identified.
He added that shop owners had been escorted with their stock last night to seek refuge with their families nearby.
“We will make sure we investigate to get to the bottom of what prompted these incidents. If the community has grievances, they have to approach relevant authorities,” Makhubele said.
Meanwhile, Gauteng Premier David Makhura and the South African Human Rights Commission has condemned the looting of the stores.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms these acts of criminality. The criminals who looted foreign-owned shops under a disguise of revenging the police must be arrested. The police are in a business of fighting crime, irrespective of the motive,” he said.
The SAHRC said the government needed to address the community’s concerns about missed economic opportunities and undocumented migrants in the country.
“The commission thus calls on the state to address these concerns urgently, as tensions, violence and the resultant looting directed against non-nationals we witnessed on Wednesday night, will not be resolved,” it said in a statement.