Cape Town – At least 24 Somali shopkeepers and owners have been killed since January, according to the Somali Community Board of South Africa, which blames police inaction for the unabated extortion of foreign-owned businesses and killings in the townships.
The group was commenting after 12 people were killed in Site B, Khayelitsha, in suspected gang shootings linked to “protection fees” on Saturday.
“Protection fee” refers to the money some business owners, mostly foreign-owned spaza shops, salons and barber shops, are forced to pay to local gangs in townships every month.
A gang of about 15 people wearing masks went on a shooting spree in Site B following the murder of a leader in RR Section by members of an rival extortion gang.
The first body was found in Banzi Street with several gunshot wounds, next to a firearm at 10am. Police also found a substantial amount of cash, with several other shootings reported in the area later that afternoon.
In a second incident believed to be a retaliatory attack linked to the first murder, two Somali nationals were shot at at T110 on Saturday afternoon.
One died on the scene and the other was seriously wounded and taken to a medical facility.
In RR Section, three other men were shot dead in an incident believed to be linked to the first two.
At a spaza shop in Y-Block two other men were killed after being shot, one in the yard and another in a vehicle.
Police say reports also indicate that two other Somali nationals were shot close to a spaza shop in the area. One died on the scene while the other was transported to hospital where he later died.
Somali Community Board of South Africa chairperson Amir Sheikh said each year more than 100 of their countrymen who own businesses were killed nationally, with half of those reported from the Western Cape.
“We believe the police failed to take action when this started because things have reached boiling point. This started when there was a lot of looting and spate robbery incidents.
’’Some people offered to provide security in exchange to be paid for protection. A small pocket of opportunistic criminals saw this and used it to extort businesses and that is why we say police gave it room to grow.”
“Even now we know there is a task team that was established to fight this but our community is excluded in a matter that affects them.
’’We believe that the root cause of this could also be the economic situation in the country that includes a high unemployment rate. Most people believe that we make huge money out of our businesses. We don’t,” he said.
Briefing the media yesterday, Western Cape acting police commissioner Thembisile Patekile ordered a 72-hour activation plan for the mobilisation of resources in search of the gunmen.
Visiting the area, Patekile said that police were working around the clock to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We have moved from the unknown to the known. Persons of interest include possible suspects in the shooting due to a number of reasons including that they were near the scene or were at the scene.
“The investigation will reveal what the motive was but we are looking at the groups that have been working towards extortion in this area,” Patekile said.
A witness who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation said he was in a nearby shack when he heard gunshots.
“About 15 of these men went past the shack carrying huge guns. They were wearing masks. They came here to look for members who belong to a rival extortion gang who had allegedly killed their boss.
“They went into a Somali shop and demanded money, but the Somali guy refused and they shot at him,” the resident said.
The aunt of one of the victims said her nephew had just returned from getting his Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant at the post office.
“My nephew was knocking at the door when about 12 men walked past. His sister was about to open for him when he heard gunshots. As she opened, she saw him lying in a pool of blood.
“Neighbours say that about 12 men walked past and then two others came after. He was shot by the two that were left behind. We are so emotional because he was a good child.
’’We don’t know the motive behind his killing as we didn’t know he belonged to any gang,” said the distraught aunt.
Community Policing Forum cluster chairperson Fransina Lukas said: “Drastic interventions by the police are needed to make the community safe again.”
Khayelitsha Development Forum (KDF) chairperson Ndithini Tyhido said they were angered by the senseless killings.
He called on all three spheres of government to stop politicising community safety and combine efforts to route out the scourge of extortion gangs in communities.
“The KDF further calls on the three spheres of government as well as businesses to support the first of its kind CCTV technology based “Uyabonwa” project that was designed before the onslaught of COVID-19.
“We call on President Matamela C. Ramaphosa to urgently intervene in the development of the Makhaza police station.
’’This police station was decided upon more than 20 years ago when Mr Leonard Ramatlane (ANC) was still MEC for community safety in the Western Cape,” he said.
Tyhido also called on Patekile to address the “racially skewed” allocation of policing resources in the province.
Anyone with information on the incidents can anonymously contact Crime Stop on 08600 10111 or SMS Crime Line on 32211.