NAZIL Munssi stared at his ravaged hardware store near Soweto township with tears in his eyes, despondent and terrified after anti-foreign mobs went on a looting rampage this week in South Africa.
“They are targeting all the foreigners,” said Munssi, an Indian national who has lived in South Africa for 26 years. “I don’t think it’s a safe place anymore. There is no law and order.”
The outbreak of pillaging, which targeted dozens of stores, began in Soweto after a foreign shopkeeper shot dead a teenager who allegedly tried to rob him on Monday night.
With poverty and unemployment widespread, frustration in Johannesburg’s run-down neighbourhoods often boils over into anti-immigrant violence.
The latest targeting of foreign-owned shops will not do South Africa’s image any good, as it conjures up images of 2008 when South Africa was hit by a wave of xenophobic violence that left 62 people dead. That year one of the most infamous images in the world was of a Mozambican immigrant being set alight by South African attackers as the police looked on.
The most recent looting spread to other townships west of Johannesburg, including Kagiso, where Munssi, the hardware store owner, has his shop.
Inside his store bags of cement, tubs of paint and tools were strewn across the floor.
“I have a good relationship with everyone here,” said 43-year-old Munssi. “I’m feeling very badly.”
On Thursday he locked up his store and left on the advice of the authorities. Moving the foreigners was easier than fighting off a mob, one police officer told AFP.
“We won’t stay and rebuild,” Munssi said.
Mini grocery shops mainly run by Pakistanis, Somalis and Bangladeshis have cropped up in many South African townships, with the owners frequently accused of squeezing out small local businesses with cut-rate prices.
Around the corner from Munssi’s shop, a group of Bangladeshi store owners loaded what was left of their stock—bottles of Pepsi, sacks of maize meal and chocolate bars—into a truck.
Earlier on Friday, a crowd of about 50 people had gathered in front of the store and threatened the staff before the police arrived and chased them off with rubber bullets.
“I was very scared, we were shaking,” said Tshegofatso Mogalo, the 22-year-old store receptionist.
She said the looters, many of them young men, were driven by nyaope, a street drug common in South Africa that is a mix of heroin and cannabis.
Provincial police Lieutenant General Lesetja Mothiba agreed, saying “Youth who are addicted to drugs, particularly nyaope, are taking advantage of this situation.”
By Friday afternoon, 162 people had been arrested and some appeared in court on charges of possession of stolen goods and public violence.
President Jacob Zuma has condemned the violence, urging the police to restore order.