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Somalis should get our respect and protection


By Glenn Ashton

The murder, intimidation and harassment of Somali refugee shopkeepers must be condemned in the strongest terms. It appears that these attacks on Somalis are triggered primarily by jealousy of their success as shopkeepers in the townships, coupled to a perceived threat to the market share of spaza shop operators.

It bodes badly for our rule of law that we allow - or are perceived to countenance - thuggery as a regulatory mechanism at the most fundamental level of commerce in South Africa, especially where immigrants and refugees, who are extremely vulnerable, are concerned.

The recent record of Somalis being murdered almost daily in Cape Town should set alarm bells ringing in our law enforcement community.

Countless more have had their shops plundered, or have been intimidated and subjected to summary "community" justice and threats, as was recently the case in Masiphumelele.

I raised this issue with local media and politicians almost two weeks ago, yet nothing was done to prevent this tragedy.

A task team must be created that includes all relevant government sectors, including national and city police, social services and home affairs, so that a halt can be brought to these murders and intimidation. Both as a United Nations member, and as a nation with a constitution offering protection to vulnerable sectors of society, we have a duty to not only support, but to protect and nurture this hard-working, industrious sector of our society.

South Africa is seen as a haven by oppressed people across Africa, and it is tragic that we have not tapped into the rich vein of expertise of people who have had no choice but to set up shop here, because of war and social collapse in their nations.

They create employment, participate actively in our local economy and offer relevant local models of business.

That Somalis are being murdered on a daily basis is an indictment of our collective national psyche, and runs counter to the principles of ubuntu.

It is time for our city, provincial and national government to tackle this scourge, and to visibly hold the murderers of these people to account.

Our own refugees received broad support during the exile years of our struggle.

The very least we should do is to reciprocate the tolerance and indulgences extended by the African and global community in our time of need.

Glenn Ashton

Source: Cape Times, Aug 31, 2006

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