Business owners in the Johannesburg CBD are pleading with the South African government to negotiate with Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders to restore order and find a working solution for both parties.
If not, they are willing to fight fire with fire.
This was after widespread incidents of looting erupted in Johannesburg on Sunday night and yesterday, which led to the death of at least one person and more than 100 arrested.
The wave of protests in which some participants resorted to burning public and private property and looting, followed weeks of tensions between authorities and foreign nationals after widespread efforts to shut down illegally operated businesses.
But this time it was local residents claiming to be protesting in solidarity with protesters accused of attacking immigrant truck drivers, in a separate wave of attacks.
Locals attacked foreign-owned businesses over the past two days, leading to several cases of arson and looting.
Khari Salaam from the Bangladesh Business Owners Group in the CBD said he believed in peace but felt pushed to fight for his survival.
“If they are not going to allow us to run our businesses in peace, then we are going to fight it our own way. We didn’t do anything to them and they keep on stealing from us.
“I am a person of peace. Even the South Africans who work with me know that I don’t believe in fighting but because they push us we don’t have any other option,” Salaam said. “This is not even the first time. These people are heartless. They accuse us of selling fake food, but they continue to steal from us.”
Sivuyile Nama, a Turffontein resident, believes South Africans are hungry due to the high rate of unemployment and this led them to resort to looting as an opportunity to get food.
“Our people took advantage of the protest by truck drivers. To say they are helping them was just an excuse to loot. We can’t say it is xenophobic attacks, because even South African shops were looted. This is proof that our people are hungry and any opportunity to loot will be used,” Nama said.
Gauteng provincial commissioner of police Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela slammed what he described as blatantly lawless and inhumane behaviour. “Those who are hell-bent on turning Gauteng into a crime haven will be found and will face the full might of the law.”
Police Minister, Bheki Cele declared the Johannesburg looting as a national emergency.
Meanwhile, the Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) braced for overnight operations.
“We have deployed JMPS officers to the main arterials in Jeppestown and Malvern,” said spokesperson Wayne Minaar. “This includes Inyalas which have been deployed to all hot spots. The hot spots include Jeppestown, Malvern and the east side of the CBD from End Street.”
Immigrant associations reached out to media to implore the government to protect immigrant truck drivers.
Responding to unconfirmed reports of a planned siege by local protesters yesterday, a group called the International Cross-Border Traders Association sent an alert to truck and bus drivers, warning them of pending attacks.
But a different association, the All Truck Drivers Association, which had been vocal against the employment of immigrant drivers, denied they had been involved in any protests or killings involving foreign nationals.