By Nkululeko Nene
He narrowly escaped death when his shop was set alight, allegedly by a mob from the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), but Pakistani businessman Altaf Hussain is not giving up.
“I’m not going to run away. I will have to find ways to rebuild my business. I have nowhere to go,” he said after the incident on Monday.
Hussain has been running a cellphone and repair shop on Joe Slovo Street for the past two years.
Two other shops owned by foreign nationals were also torched and others were looted.
Recounting the incident, Hussain said a group of about 30-40 men stormed his store just after 8.30 am and beat him with a stick on the head.
“My head spun. I didn’t know what I had done wrong. They beat me with a stick on the head until I ran out the gate,” he said.
Hussain said he lost his passport and his Pakistani ID when his shop was set alight.
“What also pained me is that I stashed R40 000 in the safe which I was going to use to buy stock. When my shop went up in flames, I knew that my money was gone.”
Hussain said it was his first attack since his arrival in Durban in 2017.
Hussain, whose shop was insured, said he lost about R250 000 of stock including new cellphones and customers’ phones that were there for repairs.
A vegetable vendor, Brenda Ndlovu, who saw the attack urged the police to act swiftly. Ndlovu said her stall was turned upside down during the commotion and claimed that the attackers were MKMVA affiliates whose threatening messages were circulated earlier, warning about the destructive protest.
Ndlovu said it was obvious that the “barbaric act” was targeted only at foreign nationals because no locally owned businesses were torched.
Pakistan South Africa Association Durban president, Hayat Khan, said the information they received was that the group that burnt the shop also tried to loot and burn three or four more shops, but did not succeed.
“People are living in fear,” said Khan.
He said at least 80% of foreign-owned shops employed locals, so the disruption also frustrates them. Khan said about 90% of Pakistan members were married to locals which automatically made them citizens.
“This is not the first time. We want, especially the mayor, to speak to the community and the authorities to put a stop to this because in most of these affected shops are South African employees. If one or two foreign nationals are working, it’s because they own the place. We also contribute to charity organisations looking after the needy,” said Khan.
Members of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) confirmed that on Monday a group had assembled at King Dinuzulu Park before marching to the Durban City Hall to hand over a memorandum. But, the association distanced themselves from the looting and burning of the two shops.
SAPS provincial spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said police informed the group they would not be allowed to march. He said while this was happening, another group converged in the city and started looting shops before two were set alight. Police officers from Durban central and metro police responded to the incident.
Dumisani Mahlinza, MKMVA member and march co-organiser, said the march was aimed at calling for a speedy implementation of Nasrec resolutions.
“Our march was not related to the foreign nationals only. Our demands are both governmental and organisational.
“We have been saying the illegal and undocumented foreign nationals should leave. We also demand that the president step down because he has failed to look after the interests of local people,” said Mahlinza.
He said after handing over the memorandum to an official from the premier’s office, the crowd dispersed in respect of the Covid-19 regulations. IOL