A group of men armed with crude weapons made their way through the inner city, breaking and looting, in the wake of police raids in which refugees and other migrants were rounded up and their goods confiscated at gun point.
“Sizobabamba ngezandla uhulumeni usiphoxelani (We’ll get our hands on them. Why has the government failed/disappointed us),” sang a group of men in isiZulu as they marched down Margaret Mcingana Street in Jeppestown, Johannesburg, on the afternoon of Wednesday 7 August.
Armed with knives, hammers, scissors, knobkerries and pieces of wood picked up along the way, the mob had gone to the Wolhuter Men’s Hostel to mobilise more support. Their message was clear. “We are going to go deal with these foreigners.”
One of the men in the group, carrying a stick, said: “The foreigners, they kill our police. They must go.” Another man, encouraged by his comments, added: “We are going to go remove the Nigerians and take their stuff.”
The mob had formed earlier near the Noord Taxi Rank and Fashion District in the central business district of Joburg and made its way towards Jeppestown. Along the way, they smashed the windows of shops and cars believed to belong to migrants and robbed street traders of their goods and food.
As the procession gathered momentum, individuals became more brazen. Some started chasing after anyone they perceived to be a migrant. The rest of the group stood and watched, jeering and banging their crude weapons against shut roller security doors and cars parked on the side of the road.
Marching towards the hostel in Jeppestown, the group of men stormed a supermarket and a small liquor store on Commissioner Street, smashing windows and stealing food, meat and alcohol.
The police were aware of the group, but provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said she was hesitant to link the mob attack and looting to the police operations taking place in the Fashion District. The looters had formed near the cordoned-off area of the police operation.
Peters confirmed that the South African Police Service, the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies were conducting raids earlier in the day in the same area where they were forced to retreat the week before following clashes with shopkeepers and street traders in the inner city.
About the police operation, Peters added: “We will also reassert the authority of the state.”
Her comment followed widespread condemnation from politicians and the police after the violent clashes between law enforcement and mostly migrant shopkeepers and street traders.