The Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani communities and businesses in the greater Athlone area have appealed to a contingent of high-ranking police officers for protection, as they fear for their lives.
The appeal was made at a meeting in Rylands on Wednesday November 16, where the three nationalities, under the acronym BIP, said they are standing united against crime.
The group is concerned about what appears to be the systematic targeting of foreign national businessmen by criminals – either by being robbed or kidnapped. They became increasingly alarmed when Naushad Khan, 46, also known as Naushad Desmukh – the owner of Khans clothing store – was kidnapped outside his Athlone business on Monday October
31 (“Anxious wait for abducted man’s family,” Athlone News, November 9).
He has been missing since.
According to Athlone SAPS spokeswoman Sergeant Zita Norman, there have been no new developments in this kidnapping case, and the investigation has since been handed over to provincial police.
Mr Khan is the second foreign national businessman to have been kidnapped in the greater Athlone area in recent months.
On Friday September 2, a man was kidnapped in Surrey Estate and held for two days. His kidnappers demanded an R800 000 ransom, but he was rescued by Metro police on Sunday September 4.
Hanif Loonat, chairman of the Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum (CPF) Cluster, said he had been approached by members of BIP to arrange the meeting, but that he was doing so as a community activist, and not in his capacity as the cluster chairman.
“The BIP communities decided to have this session so as to be given an opportunity to raise their concerns,” Mr Loonat said.
A statement from BIP, reads: “We the BIP communities chose South Africa above all other countries to better the lives of our families and loved ones. Unfortunately, we did not realise that this fortunate opportunity and choice would be at a cost and at the detriment of ourselves.
“Our communities have been terrorised by criminals both from our country of origin and local. Our traders and businessmen have been kidnapped and extorted in the form of ransoms.
“Many have conceded and paid to meet these unscrupulous demands. We did this in fear of retribution both in this country and in our countries of origin. These acts of violence against our helpless and law-abiding communities have gone unreported for fear of victimisation and serious repercussions. We believe these kidnappings to be orchestrated by syndicates that are based locally and abroad.
“Our traders who contribute immensely to the economy have been subjected to armed robberies, which have led to serious injuries and sometimes also been fatal. These robberies are becoming common and are perpetrated by organised and highly dangerous syndicates and unprofessional and desperate opportunists. These cases also go unreported.”
At the meeting, individuals shared their personal encounters with criminals, with many saying they are often duped into allowing people into their shops or homes who claim they are from the City of Cape Town or law enforcement agencies, only to be robbed once these bogus officials gain entry.
“I have been robbed so many times in my shop. They say they are from the City and have come to do an inspection. When they come in, they take out their guns.
“We are here to build relationships. We are one. We don’t want to be separate from South Africa, but please help us,” a Bangladeshi national, who only wanted to be known as Abdurahman, said.
Part of the BIP statement confirms his claim. It reads: “We are visited by uniformed authorities at our homes late at night, asking to check our documents or some other reason, so that we allow them in. When allowed in, they would then hold us up and ransack our homes.”
This had lead to mistrust and a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, BIP said.
Some people also spoke out against receiving threatening phone calls and the lack of service delivery from police.
“I reported the threatening calls I received, and even gave the police the telephone number to trace, but, after three weeks, I have heard nothing from the police. I recorded the third threatening call I received, and it was from an Urdu-speaking person.
“We need help, please,” one man said.
Sufiya Dalvi, who is from India, but has lived in Rylands for 20 years, said she and her family just need some kind of assurance about their safety. “How safe are we in our homes and on the street? I beg the authorities to please take this seriously,” Ms Dalvi said.
Saima Sabri, from Pakistan, said she had also received threatening calls two years ago, and although she reported them to the police, nothing had been done.
BIP appealed to the police for a special task team to be set up to deal with their concerns, adding that this would allow them to “entrust all information of a criminal nature to the authorities concerned”.
Other challenges the foreign nationals say they face, include: being treated like criminals, which caused them more trauma and resulted in them not reporting the crime; being asked to identify suspects “openly”, which exposed them to revenge and discouraged them from going to court to testify; businesses were closed for many hours for police to investigate when a robbery was reported, resulting in them losing business; and not being allowed to accompany SAPS on to their business premises during an investigation, causing mistrust.
They did, however, concede that there were criminal elements within their own communities as well. “We need to, at this juncture, also admit that within our communities we have criminal elements, which are known to us. We are willing, through this task team to be established, to expose these unwarranted elements that portray us in bad light.”
SAPS Mitchell’s Plain cluster commander General Gregory Goss told members of BIP that crime had no colour.
“We appreciate that you want to build the country economically, and that it’s not just about your livelihoods. As human beings, we need to stand together, as crime is affecting everybody. I understand that you are fearful. You did not grow up with the locals.
“I can assure you that we are going to find out why people are being kidnapped, and when we catch the perpetrators, they will get the sentence they deserve. We support you.
“We will find the criminals. Thank you very much for the initiative you took to organise this meeting.”
Colonel Abe Enus, unit commander at the Hawks, encouraged people to report corruption. “Section 34 of the corruption legislation states that you have a moral and legal duty to report corruption.
“We don’t want people running around in our uniform messing up our name. If you are corrupt, we will get rid of you,” Colonel Enus said.
Mian Ramzan, the president of BIP, said they work hard, and that the threats to their communities must come to an end.
“This is not going to happen to anyone of us again, because we have law enforcement behind us and we are united,” Mr Ramzan said.
You can report corruption to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Colonel Enus at 082 469 2577.