Soweto Looting: High Unemployment to blame, Children stand trial

JANUARY 26, 2015

The Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) believes the recent looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto and surrounding areas is the result of high unemployment among the youth, its Director, Brian Ashley, told the SABC.

Attacks on foreign-owned shops were sparked on Monday, after a 14-year-old boy was killed by a Somali shopkeeper in Soweto. The boy is believed to have been part of a group that tried to rob the shopkeeper.

Ashley believes that racism and xenophobic attacks are perpetuated mainly by unemployment and inequalities.

South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Chairperson, Advocate Lawrence Mushwana, also agrees that the high unemployment rate plays a major role in these acts of violence.

Children stand trial for looting

To date, police say the number of people arrested in connection with looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto has risen to 178. Children are among over 90 people expected to appear in the Kagiso Magistrate's court on Monday. They are accused of public violence and possession of stolen property following a week of looting in suburbs across Soweto.

Police said that 83 people had already appeared in the Protea Magistrates court and there cases were remanded to January 28 and 29. Six of those were children who were released to the custody of their parents.

Attacks spread

The attacks have now spread to other areas including Alexandra and Langlaagte, where police launched a man-hunt for suspects involved in the murder of two people on Sunday night. It's believed the two men were shot dead during a looting spree in the area.

Police have confirmed that a group of locals looted a foreign-owned spaza shop and then set another building alight.

"When we arrived there we found a person lying [on the ground and] … it looks like he died as a result of gunshot. We also found another body just outside the informal settlement not far from the tavern, so far no one has been arrested but police are investigating and we are monitoring the area in Langlaagte [and] Soweto," Police spokesperson, Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale said.

Government response

President Jacob Zuma, who is away at the World Economic Forum (WEF), directed government to restore normalcy in Soweto and Malamulele, in Limpopo, where residents are violently demanding to be put under a new municipality.

“The President has instructed the Security Cluster in Cabinet as well as the provincial and local government leadership in Gauteng and Limpopo to work together to bring the situation under control and work towards restoring normalcy,” the Presidency said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Buti Manamela, on Sunday said that looting of shops in Soweto was not xenophobic, but a criminal activity by young people.

“Everybody says what happened in the past few days at this township was xenophobic attacks, … I do not think it was that… it is what it is… it is young people who decided to commit crime in their own communities,” he said.

“Once we turn on other Africans, because they are not from within our borders, when we’ve chased them away, the next thing to happen is that you will be looking at your neighbour and saying this one is a Muvenda, he must go back to Venda, this one is a Xhosa, he must go back to Pondoland, this one is a Sotho, he must go back to Lesotho.

“We must stand up against those who see others as sub-humans, because those who commit such crimes will be coming for you and me.”

Gauteng Premier David Makhura also urged foreign traders affected by the looting to be organised and not to break the law by seeking revenge.

“We need you to be organised. Formalise your businesses so that you can contribute to paying tax and cooperate with local businesses in order to share skills. We commit that the police will continue to protect you, and you should not seek revenge and break the law,” he said.

On Friday, Premier Makhura, Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko, Minister of State Security David Mahlobo, MEC for Economic Development Lebogang Maile, MEC for Community Safety Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane, City of Joburg Mayor Parks Tau and MMCs undertook an onsite assessment of several businesses in Soweto ravaged by the attacks and held a public meeting with residents at the Doornkop Hall in Dobsonville.

“We want our townships to be vibrant places of economic activity, and that is why we are advancing the Township Revitalisation programme,” he said.

Premier Makhura also committed to returning to Dobsonville in a month’s time to address the concerns raised by the residents during the meeting.

The break out of the sporadic looting incidents has resulted in the death of four people, including an 18-month-old baby in Kagiso, the following interventions have been put in place:

  • In Kagiso, 54 police vehicles have been deployed with 120 law enforcement personnel, in addition to the normal policing personnel in the area;
  • In Soweto, 113 additional police and 51 vehicles are maintaining a heavy presence;
  • At least 178people have been arrested; and
  • Ten illegal firearms belonging to foreign nationals have been confiscated.