Johannesburg metro police pounced on Twickenham Court, a suspected hijacked building in Braamfontein, on Friday night, rounding up residents and searching units.
Male residents who were found walking around or outside the dark building were told to lie on the floor and – with officers standing over them with automatic rifles – were thoroughly searched.
The sound of a generator could be heard coming from somewhere in the building, supplying power to a few units.
A group of officers moved through the dark passages from floor to floor, conducting searches. More than an hour later, they came out of the building with an unconfirmed amount of dagga. No arrests were made.
The search followed Thursday’s “acts of violence and criminality” – allegedly by a group of foreigners who attacked the police.
But communities of foreigners in Johannesburg said those who attacked police did it in “self-defence”, adding that they were “fed up with the constant police intimidation, harassment and extortion”.
But they also condemned the attacks, describing the foreigners who attacked the police as “reckless”. They said they were worried the attacks could trigger acts of xenophobia.
Chairperson of the Somali Community Board and the spokesperson for the African Diaspora Forum, Amir Sheikh, said it was “almost an everyday thing that foreign traders are targeted and harassed, with police intimidating them and extorting money”.
The attack on Thursday in downtown Johannesburg was violent. “Fed-up” traders – believed to be foreigners – began the attack.
Stones and bricks were thrown at fleeing police officers and their vehicles.
The angry mob showed no intention of stopping, picking up stones that had been thrown earlier and hurling them again at the police. The streets were left trashed.
Police said that, after finding themselves under attack, they withdrew and avoided “possible bloodshed”. They fled to avoid having to use live ammunition, they said.
“People are fed up,” Sheikh said, adding that they often heard reports of “millions of rands worth of goods being confiscated, but they never hear of or see the goods being destroyed”.
“I can tell you for a fact that the same goods always find their way back on to the streets. They are sold by corrupt officials to other traders and it can’t be only foreigners breaking the law,” Sheikh said.
The spokesperson for Ethiopian traders and the United Ethiopian Community in South Africa, Nidus Temesgen, said the police’s approach when conducting raids was a problem.
“We want the police to do their work, but procedurally.
“They must have a search warrant and not just come in shooting at people and kicking them,” Temesgen said.
“People on Thursday were trying to defend themselves. They can’t take it any more.”
Sheikh said he and the community did not support attacks on the police by anyone.
“An attack on law enforcement is tantamount to an attack on the state. There are, however, always two sides to a coin and we need to look at the concerns of the traders, irrespective of their nationality.”
Sheikh called for political leaders to tone down their statements. He said there was widespread unease among foreigners following public statements that he described as “reckless”.
“Reckless statements will lead to xenophobia …they will lead to attacks on foreigners,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies said they would return to the city’s streets and continue raiding hijacked buildings.
Videos of the attack, showing metro and Johannesburg police retreating from the angry mob, went viral and started a widespread debate on social media.
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