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Kenyans in South Africa count losses as unrest turns deadly

A member of the South African Police Services (SAPS) fires rubber bullets at rioters looting the Jabulani Mall in Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg, on July 12, 2021.


Kenyans in South Africa have been forced to stay indoors and temporarily halt business operations as unrest triggered by the jailing of ex-President Jacob Zuma spiraled across the country, with some traders reporting looting of their businesses.

Officials of a local lobby representing Kenyans in the country told Nation.Africa Tuesday that all members had been advised to stay away from areas hit by protests for their safety, with some saying they had lost wares to looters.

Godfrey Kamatu, the chairperson of Kenyan Diaspora in South Africa (Kedasa), said Kenyans are now hoping for better security after the South African government deployed the military to quell protests on Tuesday.

“We have not been able to go out to our workplaces because of safety reasons,” he said on phone, adding that there were no reports of Kenyans hurt in the chaos so far.

“We have been able to account for every of our members, but it is not safe to go out just yet.”

Looters pillage mall in South Africa’s Durban

According to Mr Kamatu, most of the protesters were youthful groups walking from shop to shop to loot, especially edible items and electronic gadgets.

“They are not beating people. They are looting food and vandalising property,” he told Nation.Africa, suggesting the violence may now be fueled by economic reasons.

Cars damaged

Other Kenyans in the country lamented that looting had affected their businesses after protests turned violent in the country’s commercial capital.

For instance, Peter Mbugua, who sells cars in Johannesburg, said protesters vandalised his yard and damaged cars.

“Depending on where you are, there has been no protection against looting. Some of the looters were arrested but later released,” he said.

“They attacked my yard and damaged the cars. They did not steal, they just set some on fire,” Mr Mbugua said.

He says his yard was also attacked in 2019 during the then xenophobic attacks on foreigners.

Closed shops targeted

Most shops were closed on Monday as some business owners feared their establishments would be attacked. But even then, looters still targeted shops that had been closed.

Stanley Kariuki, who runs a fashion shop at Johannesburg’s Chris Hani Mall, said looters targeted it on Monday night after he had called it a day.

“I sell fashion and other beauty accessories. I am safe but I lost one of my stores in the current looting spree,” he told Nation.Africa, referring to his shop at Vosloorus centre in Johannesburg.

According to the authorities, the death toll now stands at 45, with 19 killed in Gauteng province and 26 in KwaZulu-Natal.

KwaZulu-Natal province, Zuma’s home region, is the epicentre of the unrest.

Protests erupted last week shortly after Zuma started serving a 15-month term for snubbing a probe into the corruption that stained his nine years in power.

He had refused to obey summons to appear before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, known locally as the Zondo Commission, that was investigating allegations of state capture. Incidentally, it is Zuma himself who named the commission that eventually sniffed the trail back to him through the infamous cronies commonly known as the Gupta brothers.

The protests have been prevalent in Johannesburg central business district and surrounding areas like Jeppestown, Berea, Malvern and Denver have been experiencing some unrest.

Alexandra, Bramley and Wynberg townships near the opulent suburb of Sandton were also affected by the violence.

The South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) have since been deployed in areas regarded as “hotspots” in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

South African Police Minister Bheki Cele said Tuesday that at least 787 people had been arrested following the protests. They were implicated in the torching of trucks, looting shops, burning tyres and blockage of some major highways.