Mabuza was responding to questions in the National Assembly a day after looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto which led to the deaths of three people
Image: REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

Deputy President David Mabuza has called for arrests of locals who loot foreign-owned businesses in townships and has questioned the real reasons behind the looting of these businesses.

He appeared to dismiss allegations that foreigners were selling expired goods‚ and also rejected suggestions of unfair competition by these business owners.

Mabuza was responding to questions in the National Assembly a day after looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto which led to the deaths of three people and amid reports that the police's crime intelligence unit was caught unaware as they did not foresee the unrest.

ANC MP Xitlhangoma Mabasa had asked Mabuza about the proliferation of foreign-owned businesses in townships‚ saying it presented a problem. Mabuza disagreed saying foreigners had a right to trade as long as they followed the right process of entering the country and possessed relevant documentation to trade.

“I don't think it’s a problem if they have got all the documentation that is required to participate in the economy of the country.”

He said some South Africans were renting out their own shops to foreign nationals‚ which meant that those South Africans had given up.

“Yesterday there was an attack on foreign nationals' shops‚ the gripe and the problem was that these shops are selling expired goods‚” said Mabuza.

“And I asked myself if these shops are selling expired goods‚ why people are looting and taking these expired goods to their homes. That means these goods are not expired that is just a way of deceiving all of us to say the goods are expired. They are looting‚ the essence is to loot‚” he added.

He said it was important however for Home Affairs to ensure that everyone who was trading in the country had the right documentation to be in the country and for those who were regulating businesses in the townships and providing licences to trade to ensure that those who were trading in the townships had licences to do so. Otherwise‚ this could “slide down” into xenophobia.

The National Freedom Party's Sibusiso Mncwabe charged that the cause of conflict was not the issue of documentation but alleged unfair competition.

“It is alleged that the foreigners will buy in bulk and they will compete against one person in the township and they get assistance allegedly from their countries to buy in bulk and to bring down prices because they are assisted somewhere‚” he claimed.

He wanted to know whether the government had plans to address the issue of unfair competition as a cause of conflict.

Again‚ Mabuza wasn't sold. He said people organising themselves‚ buying their goods in bulk and getting discount as a result‚ which was transferred to the consumer‚ was good business practice.

“I don't understand why our people are not doing the same. They can come together‚ get their monies together and go buy in bulk so that they can get the benefit‚ the discount that is necessary so that that discount can be translated to the consumer.”

He said this went to the heart of South Africans' problems in that people wanted to be “a one-business show business” where people worked in silos and didn't help each other.

“These people are successful because they come together. They are in a foreign country‚ they are compelled to know each other and to work together. That is what makes them successful‚” he said.

“The rest of these other problems of competition‚ it depends on how you market your products‚ how you sell yourself. We should encourage our people to come together and even own these big malls as a group and sell their products there.”

He however said the government would investigate the allegations made by Mncwabe and intervene where necessary.

“I don't think there should be an excuse from the police to say they didn't anticipate that thing happening. I think they should have the capacity‚ that's why it's crime intelligence. We must insist on the police to do what they are supposed to do‚” he said while responding to a question from DA MP Solly Malatsi‚ who wanted to know how the government was planning to attract investors to townships when townships were volatile as evidenced by the looting on Wednesday.

Malatsi also referred to a confession by deputy minister of police Bongani Mkongi that crime intelligence did not detect that unrest.

“These kinds of incidences we are not going to tolerate. People are going to be arrested for looting other people's properties. People are going to be arrested‚ they must be arrested‚” said Mabuza.

He said the government would continue to encourage investors to invest in townships while it worked on making townships safer.