Soweto attacks spread, cops call late-night meeting

Officers have been escorting frightened foreign shop-owners out of Soweto in the wake of violent protest.

A group of looters break into a foreign-owned store in White City, Soweto on 22 January 2014. Picture: SA Crime Fighters via Twitter

JOHANNESBURG - Gauteng Police Commissioner Lesetja Mothiba says he wants looting in Soweto ended this evening and has vowed to take action against any police officer involved in the crimes.

Provincial police management held an briefing at Moroka Police Station earlier this evening, amid widespread looting, violence and running battles with more officers being sent to the township this evening.

At the same time, the South African Police Service has confirmed that looting of foreign-owned shops is taking place in Sharpeville in the south and Kagiso in the west.

Mothiba said intelligence officials were due to hold a meeting later tonight to discuss their plan of action for the whole of Gauteng.

He said troops would be sent out to cover all parts of Soweto as looting was being reported all over the township.

Earlier Mothiba said the situation was not violent.

"Here is large-scale looting. We have called on additional man power. The people are not violent, all they are doing is just looting and this is not good for us as a country."

He added the attacks were clearly aimed at foreigners.

"Next to the shops of the foreigners are South African shops. I'm standing in front of one shop and a market, nothing is happening to them. So we can see there is a targeted approach to loot the shops [run by] foreigners."

However, the Congress of South African Trade Unions's Zwelinzima Vavi says he is shocked by the commissioner's assessment.

"How does that explain what we are seeing on television? I don't know where the commissioner lives or which planet he is speaking from."

FOREIGNERS LEAVE SOWETO

Officers have been escorting frightened foreign shop-owners out of Soweto while parents are calling on their children to stay at home.

The violence broke after a 14-year-old teenager was gunned down on Monday. It's claimed the teen was among a group of people trying to rob a foreign shop owner. The Somali man has been arrested for the shooting and his case has been postponed.

Two people, including the youth, have been killed and 80 others arrested following widespread looting and protests.

A shop owner who spoke to Eyewitness News said he was at a loss for words after watching his shop being packed up so that he could leave the area.

"A lot of people are coming and breaking up my shop. I don't know what to do. I am just standing like this."

As light rain fell in Soweto, community members said they would not leave until there was no trace of the foreign-owned business.

Meanwhile, building owners said their own income was being threatened as they depended on the rental income from the shop owners.

One resident said he witnessed a group of school children trying to loot a shop in Meadowlands.

"I saw a group of people and school kids, they were wanting to break down the shop."

Earlier, a woman in Rockville was also injured when she was run over by a speeding car, apparently driven by angry looters.

Rubber bullets have been fired on several occasions today with officers trying to disperse large crowds.

An Eyewitness News reporter was rushed to hospital this afternoon after being struck on the head with a rock during a violent clash between residents, police and foreign shop owners in Meadowlands.

The violence has been described as pure criminality by Mothiba and not xenophobia.

Meanwhile, Gauteng Community Safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malubane has condemned the violence but said all criminals would be dealt with.

At the same time, the MEC said eight foreigners were found in possession of illegal firearms.

"We have also found ourselves in a situation where we found owners of the shop use illegal firearms to attack those that are looting."

Earlier she confirmed that a police officer was now facing a disciplinary hearing after a video showing him participating in the looting went viral.

There's also been strong political reaction this evening.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF's) Mandisa Mashego says a social solution is needed to deal with these attacks.

"We actually want to encourage residents of Soweto to discourage this kind of action. We condemn it in the strongest possible way."