News / Africa

Somalia Calls on South Africa to Protect Immigrants

Somalia Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid listens to a question from the media in Mogadishu, October 6, 2012.
Somalia Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid listens to a question from the media in Mogadishu, October 6, 2012.
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Anita Powell
— Somalia Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon is calling for South African President Jacob Zuma to take urgent action to prevent more violence against the Somali business community in South Africa. The call follows deadly attacks the past week against foreign business owners in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. 

Somali shopkeeper Abdi Ahmed died in the worst way imaginable, according to his brother Issa, who stumbled upon his dying brother shortly after they were attacked by a mob last week in the South African city of Port Elizabeth.

"His body was mutilated," he says. "There were wounds from knives, stones, and machetes."  He says, "you would not think he was killed by human beings.  My brother was killed by animals; he looked as if he was eaten by a hyena, not human beings."

Ahmed is one of dozens of Somali shopkeepers who have been targeted in South Africa recent months.  The Johannesburg township of Diepsloot also recently saw violence against Somali shopkeepers.

This killing and others like it in South Africa has prompted Somalia’s prime minister to call on South African President Jacob Zuma to intervene to protect the community.

President Zuma’s spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment, but the youth wing of his ruling African National Congress has condemned the attacks and called for action. 

"I think there needs to a serious education that happens with our communities, especially, that we have always been seen as being an integrated society.  A well-integrated society is part of Africa.  And I think that is the education that we need to bring about, and also try and encourage our people and educate them to actually be tolerant," said ANC Youth League spokesman Bandile Masuku.

Braam Hanekom is director of the non-profit group People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty.  The group works to protect and promote the rights of all refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in South Africa.

Hanekom says the Somali community is definitely often targeted because they set up cash businesses in poor areas, but he disputes newspaper accounts that referred to the killings as a "genocide."

"It is true that there has been a really a shockingly high number of Somalis who are being murdered by criminals and targeted.  Sometimes there are clear indications that competitors are involved in the assassinations and murders and lootings, muggings.  But to classify it as a genocide is quite a harsh terminology, because the attacks are very much to do what Somalis are doing rather than what they are,"  Hanekom said.

Port Elizabeth resident Dino Jilley has lived in South Africa for nearly half his life and is provincial chairman of the Somalia Association in South Africa.  He says South African police are largely not to blame.

“Ninety percent of the policemen, they are not happy what is happening and they are fighting 24 hours day and night," he said. "They are not happy, they are doing their job.  But you will get 10 percent who say, ‘Ah, at the end of the day, you are a foreigner, you come to this country, you must expect the consequences, you must expect whatever problem will face you, we have got nothing to do.’  But the majority, I would say - because I grew up in this country - the majority I would say, the police are working, working hard and trying to do their job."

And in some ways, Hanekom noted, the problem also lies in Somalia.  The nation has been in a state of violence and chaos for more than two decades, prompting refugees to flee in droves.

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