Cape Argus, 23 June 2008

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While Du Noon taxi bosses suggested that Somalis returning to the township following xenophobic attacks might pay a protection fee, Somali business owners say they have been paying such fees for years. And they allege police have also been in on the act, collecting free groceries every fortnight. But despite having paid thousands of rands to the taxi bosses since 2005, no protection was forthcoming when mobs rampaged through the area and looted their shops on May 22. During refugee-re-integration talks in Du Noon earlier this month between Sanco, the Du Noon Taxi Association (DTA) and representatives from the Premier's office, Sanco proposed refugee business owners pay a monthly R200 fee for community development, and the DTA proposed the payment of a once-off fee of R13 000 per refugee to ensure their protection. The Sanco provincial office has distanced itself from the Du Noon branch's suggestion and Provincial-Secretary Chris Stali said the Du Noon Sanco "chairperson" Thandiswa Stokwe had no mandate as she was merely a "contact person". The DTA has since also renounced their "protection fee". But a prominent Somali businessman in Du Noon, Mohammad "Xolani" Abdul, said a group of about five taxi bosses and one Somali senior community leader aligned with the taxi bosses, had, since 2005, been going from "shop to shop" soliciting funds which they claimed were meant to ensure the shopkeepers' safety. Sitting on the soft drink crates that form his bed in a room behind his empty shop, Abdul, who has lived in Du Noon for nine years and owned two shops, said all the approximately 85 Somali-owned shops in Du Noon were told to pay R100 every month to the group. But in April this year, two taxi bosses, one of them a senior member of the DTA, together with the Somali community leader known as "Omar", had stormed into his shop and demanded that he pay R20 000 for protection. "I said I didn't have R20 000, I had R15 000. They said their last price was R18 000. "They went outside to converse and later returned and pocketed the money (R15 000)." Abdul said although he paid the fee, no protection was forthcoming when xenophobic attacks broke out in Du Noon. Speaking to the media while surrounded by fellow Somali shopkeepers he said on the night of xenophobic violence in Du Noon they had gone to the houses of the taxi bosses to seek the protection they had all paid for. But they had been turned away. "They said, 'We are sorry, we can't help you my friend'." He said after their shops had been looted they had approached the taxi bosses for loans to restock their shops but had been fobbed off. "I'm cross with myself. We were scared to report the matter to the police." He said police officers had also had their own extortion racket going. Abdul said every fortnight officers had collected free groceries from his shop. "Different cops demanded groceries and (cellphone) airtime free of charge." But he would not disclose the identity of the corrupt police officers. "We don't trust the police. They just want to eat our money. We know their names, but just leave it." Police spokesperson Billy Jones said the allegations of police officers demanding free goods from Somali shopkeepers were "unfounded". Jones said business owners needed to open a formal complaint, and if they were not prepared to give a statement the allegation could not be investigated. "They need to substantiate the allegations by providing statements," said Jones. DTA spokesperson Terrence Mhlangatshoba said although he was aware that taxi bosses were involved in extortion, DTA had not sanctioned these acts.