‘All hell broke loose’
One of the most affected areas was the neighbourhood of Turffontein, eight kilometers south-west of Jeppestown. Turffontein, or ‘Turf Fountain’ in Afrikaans, owes its name to a horseracing course in the area that dates to the late 19th century and was once part of Johannesburg’s vibrant ‘Little Portugal’.
After the collapse of apartheid in the early 1990s, the most affluent Portuguese residents began moving out, replaced by black South Africans enjoying a new freedom to live where they wanted.
An increasing number of immigrants from other African countries have made Turffontein their home in the last three decades, opening businesses and giving new life and colour to a neighbourhood landscape of urban decay.
Jan, a young Afrikaner resident of Turffontein, told BIRN how the trouble began.
“On Monday [September 2], a group of people burned tyres at this intersection and closed the street to traffic,” he said, speaking at the site of the violence.
“They were shouting and singing. Then a man decided to break into a shop and all hell broke loose.”
Hay Street is the main commercial artery of Turffontein, a bustling street of music, traders and people chatting. Less than two weeks after the riots, the street is uncharacteristically quiet. Some shops are closed, others bear fresh scars of an uneven battle.
“After Jeppestown, we heard rumours and many shops were closed, but they managed to break in and steal everything from some of them,” said Jonathan, a Nigerian who owns a restaurant in Hay Street and saw the looting barricaded behind the burglar bars of his business.
“They were shouting that we should go back to our country because we don’t employ South Africans, but I can’t go to their homes to offer them jobs if they don’t come to look for employment here,” he said.
“They took all the electronics from that shop, plasma TVs and other expensive appliances, and emptied out that other business, Farida’s,” Jonathan told BIRN, pointing at the shattered glass of an emptied homeware shop across the street.
“They left nothing,” declared a grief-stricken Ethiopian trader who said he had been unable to refill his shelves.
Nearby, an Afrikaner pensioner who identified himself as Wouter was earning some extra money guarding cars at the local supermarket.
“They came down Hay street and cleaned it up within minutes,” he told to BIRN. “They took expensive stuff from that electronics shops. What is that poor guy going to do now?”
“The police stood by and did nothing,” he said. “They only dispersed the crowd when there were no more shops loot.” The mob, he said, vowed to “do it again until all the foreigners leave”.
“It is poor criminality, poor robbery. A capital sin.”
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