By Staff Reporter
At least 80 Soweto shops looted – most of them Somali-owned – following shooting of teenager, officers say
South African police said on Friday they had arrested 121 people after mobs went on a looting spree of grocery stores owned by foreign nationals in Johannesburg’s Soweto township.
Dozens now face charges of public violence, including a police officer seen on film participating in the looting, Lieutenant General Lesetja Mothiba, police commissioner of South Africa’s economic hub Gauteng, said at a press conference on Friday.
Police said the violence erupted after a foreign shopkeeper shot dead a teenager who had allegedly tried to rob him on Monday night in the township.
“Young boys wanted to rob a shop and the owner opened fire and killed one of them,” police spokesman Kay Makhubela said. “That made the community angry, and that’s what started all this.”
At least 80 shops, most of them owned by Somalis, had been looted over the past few days, he said.
On Friday, Mothiba reported “strengthened police deployments” across Soweto, which was a crucible of the fight against apartheid.
“We are pleased to report that after the flare-up yesterday afternoon, the situation was relatively calm overnight,” he said.
Dozens of those arrested appeared in court Thursday on charges of public violence, with scores more set to appear on Friday and Monday. One person is being held for murder while eleven will answer unlicensed firearms possession charges.
Most of the arrested were between the ages of 20 and 31, he said.
“Various items such as fridges and groceries valued at thousands of rands were seized during the arrests,” said Mothiba.
A second person was killed on Wednesday night, but police said they were still investigating the circumstances.
Amid widespread poverty and unemployment, frustration in Johannesburg’s run-down neighbourhoods often boils over into anti-immigrant violence.
In 2008, deadly xenophobic violence broke out around Johannesburg townships, killing 62 people.