By Abdifatah Ismail
Clearly in pain, Abdiqani Ibrahim, a 26 year old Somali shopkeeper who is recovering from serious injuries that he sustained in Phillipi after armed gangsters stormed into his shop, paces back and forth in his two meter long room in Bellville.
The doctors told him to move around so as to hasten recovery.
Ibrahim cheated death by what he calls a “divine intervention”, Many of his compatriots were not so fortunate.
He told me what happened on the night he was attacked. Four men forced the door open, while six others stood watch outside, foiling his first attempt to escape.
He pleaded with them to spare his life and take everything they wanted from the shop. He even offered to assist them to do so.
They thanked him for the offer and told him plainly that even though he was welcome to help them loot his shop, that wouldn’t stop them from killing him. One of the gunmen put a gun to his head, but it misfired.
Realising that his plead is falling on deaf ears he managed to escape. Two of the assailants gave chase and stabbed him three times in the back. Luckily, his escape bid was successful.
The police have not yet taken a statement from Ibrahim. When I asked him why his relatives wouldn’t go to the police, the answer was sharp “what would the police do for me, they haven’t done a thing for those before me”.
This is the extent to which the refugees doubt the police's willingness to protect them.
Their mistrust is understandable given the anti-immigrant views prevailing in the country.
And security officials are not an exception. Studies conducted in 2002 by Ingrid Palmary of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation found that 30% of municipal police officers and trainees believed that foreigners cause crime.
Earlier this year, Safety and Security Minster, Charles Ngakula, reacted to criticisms of the levels of crime in South Africa by saying that people who were not happy about the way the South African police handle security issues should either leave the country or keep quite.
Surely such remarks could have contributed significantly to the negative attitudes towards the poor immigrants trying to make ends meet in South Africa.
In spite of the minister later softening his position, the security agencies that fall under his control are not seen any more favourably by the refugee communities that have had to live with police indifference to their plight.
Security officials in the Western Cape are trying hard to mask the real extent of the problems that Somalis face in the province.
Community leaders who attended a meeting with senior police officials told me that the police grilled them about why they say the killings are related to xenophobia and why they often go to the press.
After the 12th Somali national was killed, Police spokesman, Randall Stroffels insisted that crime levels to which the Somali community has been exposed are no different from those experienced by South Africans.
However, a close look at what is has happening to the Somalis reveals there is more to this than “normal” violent crimes.
The shooting of Somalis on several occasions without a robbery having taken place bears witness to this. Last week, armed men sprayed pullets at a Somali shop in Kraafontein wounding the owner, Mohamoud Hussein. Nothing was taken from the shop.
The government suspects that envy about the success of the Somali entrepreneurs plays a role in the dislike of Somalis.
Local traders presumably believe that they cannot compete with Somali entrepreneurs because they had a good access to capital to start businesses.
This is not the case. If the success story of Somali entrepreneurship is true, it is more to do with selling products at marginal rates of profit, than having a huge capital.
Most Somalis begun their informal trade through a modest helping hand from their close or distant relatives.
The belief that Somalis keep large sums of cash in their shops is also untrue, as the meagre resources they have must be spent on stock to make sure there is no shortage of trading commodities.
This, too, is a key feature of their skilful entrepreneurship.
Regardless of what is behind the attacks, the Somali community believes - with reason - that they are being targeted.
This belief does not go down well with those in control of security organs notwithstanding that key political figures in the Western Cape seem to be sympathetic to the Somalis’ plight.
Cape Town Mayor Hellen Zille has reiterated the need for tolerance as Somali shopkeepers provide commercial services in areas where the formal investment fears to tread. Earlier, Western Cape Premier, Ebrahim Rasool underscored the contribution that the Somalis make to the economic growth of the metropolis.
When one looks at the prevailing political good will on the one hand, and the inaction of state organs charged with safety and security on the other, one can assume one of two possible scenarios.
Either crocodile tears are being shed or the political establishments and public service agencies do not listen to each other.
Hopefully, it is the latter that is the problem.
The face-saving approach taken by those in control of security agencies is exacerbating the situation.
For the problem to be addressed effectively there is a need for open and concerted efforts aimed not only at containing the situation, but also at putting in place strategies that can prevent incidents in the future.
These strategies must include public awareness campaigns geared towards making people understand the rights of immigrants.
If the government cannot adopt strategies to tackle the problem, at least the denial games must stop.
Abdifatah Ismail is a Somali student studying at the University of Cape Town.
This article first appeared in the Cape Times on the 27th of Sept 2006
|The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"|