Riot gear, machetes, drugs and loathing as xenophobic tension grips Pretoria

24 February 2017 - 20:25 By Sipho Mabena And Jan Borman
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Image: Abigail Javier

With battle lines drawn‚ police averted an ugly war between armed South Africans and immigrants on the streets of the country's administrative capital on Friday.

Wielding sticks‚ machetes and bricks‚ Somali immigrants in Marabastad shouted “we are fu**ing tired” as they challenged the approaching throng of equally armed South Africans marching from Atteridgeville‚ West of Pretoria city centre.

"The police never help us. Out brothers are killed in the townships. Our stores are broken into and our stocks are stolen. But they never help us‚" said one Somali‚ who only identified himself as Yusuf.

The immigrants shouted that locals attacked and chased them out of the townships‚ but that they will not stand by as the locals accosted them in the city.

Police formed a barricade between the two groups and fired stun grenades to separated the two groups. Similar scenes played out on the deserted streets of Pretoria.

  • WATCH: 'We are f***ing tired' – machete-wielding foreigner shouts during heated standoff in PretoriaThere is rising tension between armed foreigners and those taking part in a contentious 'xenophobic' march organised by the Mamelodi Concerned Residents group in Pretoria.

Several groups marched through the city. One group ran amok‚ attacking Somali immigrants‚ and another group marched to the Home Affairs offices as planned. By late afternoon‚ the attacking group was still on the streets and clashing with police.

A police helicopter was on the lookout for potentially ugly situations and directed police officers to the scenes. On Du Toit Street‚ police ordered a group of armed marchers that had turned violent to get down on the ground‚ disarmed them and put them into the back of two police trucks.

The anti-immigrant marchers hurled insults at people peering from windows of high-rise buildings and taking pictures and videos with their cell phones.

Business owners in Pretoria left nothing to chance‚ keeping the doors of their establishments shut for the rest of the day in the wake the march against people from other countries in Africans.

But the irony wasn't lost in a group of about 20 South Africans who were arrested late on Friday afternoon and found in possession of multiple needles and packets of drugs.

"Look at this. They say they're marching against drugs‚ but look at all those drugs‚" said a Tshwane metro police officer after the arrest.

Yet‚ even after the arrest‚ protesters descended on a Somali-owned grocery store in Pretoria Central‚ blaming the owner and those who worked there for distributing the drug nyaope and for threatening South Africans with firearms.

"Every week‚ every day‚ we have to bury our kids because of the drugs they buy from these guys‚" said Ingrid Motshweni‚ one of the people gathered outside the store.

"The kids are just sleepwalking because of the drugs. And when we tell the police‚ they'll come and take the guy away. But he'll be back on the streets tomorrow‚" she said.

The police searched the premises for weapons and drugs‚ but didn't find anything.

Among the Somalis‚ men were seen carrying sticks and knives‚ saying they'll defend themselves to the death if need be.

Acting police commissioner Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane said they acted swiftly‚ arresting 136 people over the past 24 hours during stabilising operations.

He said the people were arrested in connection with various crimes including looting that took place in Atteridgeville and Pretoria West this morning.

“Fortunately‚ so far today‚ we have not had reports of injuries as a result of violence‚” he said.

Phahlane said it was residents of Mamelodi who had initially planned to march as organised by the Mamelodi Concerned Residents‚ and police were not aware that people from Atteridgeville and Soshanguve would join the march.

The commissioner said he was in Marabastad where there were people from Sunnyside and the city centre.

“We were prepared for the march. That is why we were able to contain the situation in the city‚” he said.

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