Walk the talk, Cele, or there’ll be another Gqeberha

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Walk the talk, Cele, or there’ll be another Gqeberha

The police minister talked tough after foreigners reduced Korsten to a mini Mogadishu, but it’s not good enough

Editor: TimesLIVE
Mayhem broke out in Korsten, Gqeberha, this week when gun-toting foreigners went on the rampage instead of reporting their issues to the police.
OPTIONS Mayhem broke out in Korsten, Gqeberha, this week when gun-toting foreigners went on the rampage instead of reporting their issues to the police.
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Some days, they say, are better than others. On a day like this, when there is so much that upsets our sensibilities, it is hard to situate one’s mind on a single subject.

It would have been easy to focus on a grade 12-certificated leader of the opposition DA who, it appears, can’t get a grip on the historic opportunity that’s at his finger tips to punish the ANC at its weakest. The ANC without campaign funds, the ANC beset by corruption and infighting. The ANC that is immobile and apologetic about its poor performance. 

Yet, ol’ John Steenhuisen is lording over a party coming apart because of differences on so simple an issue as election messaging. Perhaps everything is complex for his grade. The DA needs a leader, hopefully with a post-matric qualification. So, yah, let’s park that and allow him to fight off the FF Plus and not the ANC, just as a disoriented post-grade 12 pupil might be inclined to do. That is the tragedy the DA under ol’ John has become. Some days are like this, others are better. 

So what matters in our country today?

One of the many other things that galled me this week was the battle between Somali businessmen and taxi drivers in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape. “Pedestrians, shoppers and motorists fled in all directions to get to safety when the violence erupted,” read a story on HeraldLIVE, our sister publication. It conjured up images of Iraq and other war zones. Run or die. Drop your groceries, save your life. Yet this was no Aleppo or Lebanon. It’s Korsten, led by embattled premier Oscar Mabuyane. 

Most specifically, images of people of Somali descent walking around brandishing machine guns, almost as if to send a message to the rest of us that they mean business and, unlike the rest of us who depend on the SAPS, they have better artillery. It was chilling, stomach-churning stuff. It trended for almost two days, with many wondering what has become of law and order here and why taximen, normally a law unto themselves too, are suddenly timid. To say many were angry is to state the obvious. 

Police minister Bheki Cele responded quickly, promising that those who broke the law will be arrested. Those who walked Gqeberha brandishing arms like we are in Syria or Afghanistan will be arrested. The police, he noted, have received and are studying the videos of the gun-toting gangs of Korsten.

Great, right? Wrong.

Remember how, in 2017, a poor Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) officer trying to tow away a car obstructing traffic in Hillbrow, belonging to a church member, was assaulted by congregants? Or perhaps you’ve seen videos of foreigners in Sunnyside, Pretoria, threatening and humiliating police in uniform? 

In 2019, the SAPS and JMPD retreated from the Joburg CBD with their tails between their legs as foreigners, according to Gauteng police spokesperson Mathapelo Peters, pelted them with stones, bricks and petrol bombs. This followed a failed bid to search and seize counterfeit goods and enforce the country’s tax laws. 

Let me be clear: some of these bandits, who may not even have passports, have the temerity to not just tell our law-enforcement officials they are not welcome to apply our laws when it comes to them, but use violence to do so. There are South Africans for that. 

At the same time, we know how cruel South Africans can be towards their fellow Africans. The country has made headlines globally because of xenophobic violence perpetrated against, at times, helpless foreigners. 

What was clear then was that the CBD had been ceded to a criminal enterprise that felt entitled to conduct business without paying tax, without being “inconvenienced” by police officers and, to boot, that had weapons not only for protection, but clearly intimidation too. It is for the same reason that, in Gqeberha, “pedestrians, shoppers and motorists fled in all directions”.

Watching the bandits in Gqeberha brandishing weapons in the streets and noting that South Africans, fearful for their lives, stayed clear of them on Thursday morning, showed how, bit by bit, the struggle for peaceful coexistence is intensifying. If Somali shop owners feel wronged, why do they think it’s OK to take the law into their own hands, torch eight taxis and damage others? Why not go to the police? 

At the same time, we know how cruel South Africans can be towards their fellow Africans. The country has made headlines globally because of xenophobic violence perpetrated against, at times, helpless foreigners. 

When all is said and done, there is a fine line between xenophobia — hating on black people from the other side of the Limpopo river who are making a success of their lives here — and suffering a troubling timidity induced by an overdose of pan-Africanism that blinds one to support bands of criminals that engage in arson and brandish weapons in our country, reducing Korsten to a mini Mogadishu in its heyday.

While Cele talked tough in Korsten this week, it is, sadly, not enough. Proactive policing requires the minister to lead his teams in finding and removing these war weapons from private residents before taxis in Gqeberha are torched. Proper policing requires inculcation of a culture of respect for the rule of law in terms of which foreigners know they must approach the police for a solution when they feel aggrieved. They may not, like many of us, have confidence in the police (an issue Cele must resolve), but this does not give them the right to behave like we live in a jungle.

Until these bandits of Korsten are arrested and made to face the full might of the law, Cele’s talk must be seen and understood as such — talk by a talkative minister. 

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