Hesitance by state feeds xenophobia

Police are monitoring the situation in White City following attacks aimed at foreign owned shops in the township.
Police are monitoring the situation in White City following attacks aimed at foreign owned shops in the township.
Image: Thulani Mbele

Yet another sad episode of random attacks on shops owned by immigrants took place in our townships yesterday.

By the time of going to press, two people had lost their lives while a couple of shops belonging to Pakistanis and Somalians were looted in parts of Soweto.

Although an attempted robbery gone wrong seems to have sparked the violence, it quickly threatened to become yet another shameful chapter in our country's history of xenophobia.

Reports so far suggest that the attack on tuck-shops came about as a result of a community anger following the killing of a young man suspected of having tried to rob a stall owned by an immigrant.

Soon the anger turned to community fury over "fake goods" and "poisonous" food and beverages that are allegedly sold to the poor in townships by the immigrant shopkeepers.

Violence is not a solution to any problem and those who broke the law yesterday have to be brought to book.

All efforts also need to be made to ensure that opportunistic criminal networks do not exploit the situation and plunge the country back to the dark days when immigrants, most from other parts of the African continent and Asia, are targeted for killings.

But the fight against xenophobia will never be won if we continue to ignore the issues that some of these communities are complaining about.

For a while now there have been complaints about an illicit food market that seems to be targeting township customers and residents of other working class settlements.

Government has generally ignored these complaints with health officials doing little to investigate the health concerns that some of the communities raise.

This failure to intervene by authorities has opened a gap for opportunists who use the community's complaints for their xenophobic ends.

The only way of isolating and weakening these opportunists and criminal networks is to win over the communities and working closely with the immigrant traders to ascertain that the goods sold to consumers in our townships meet the same health and safety standards we expect in affluent and middle-class suburbs.

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