Police minister, Bheki Cele, has come out against the men seen in videos on social media brandishing high calibre weapons during the outbreak of violence between Somali shop owners and taxi drivers in Gqeberha on Wednesday.
During a visit to the city on Thursday, Cele expressed his concern that some people were seen carrying high calibre weapons on Durban Road amidst the violence.
“We have gun laws in this country and we abide by them, the law is clear that you cannot carry and brandish a firearm in public – we are not at war – if you do so, you are breaking the law,” Cele said.
“I’m encouraged that police continue to seek the licences of these weapons and subject them to ballistic testing to see if they have been used in the commission of any crime,” the minister said.
It came as Cele vowed to track down all those responsible for violence and arson that rocked the township of Korsten Wednesday following an altercation between taxi drivers and Somali shop owners.
As a heavy police presence kept watch over the shaken town, Cele and Deputy Minister of Police, Cassel Mathale, Deputy National Commissioner responsible for policing, Lieutenant General Fannie Masemola and senior management of the South African Police Service on Thursday visited the area.
According to police, several shops as well as eight taxis were torched after a fight broke out between a taxi driver and a Somali businessman who were involved in a collision.
The incident spilled over and led to a wave of violence in which images of heavily armed men were shared on social media amidst the chaos of burning taxis.
In total, 12 vehicles and three shops were set alight. The stalls of vendors were also damaged during the violence.
Following a full police briefing on the incident, the police top brass met with leaders of the concerned groups involved in the violence and destruction.
While they differed on the exact details of how the events unfolded, all parties agreed to foster a dialogue to ensure the tensions between the taxi industry and the local business people, who are mostly Somali nationals, don’t escalate even further, Lirandzu Themba, the Police Ministry spokesperson said.
Minister Cele has praised the efforts by both groups to find a peaceful solution but has warned that arson is a very serious offence that will not go unpunished.
“While you negotiate with each other, the police won’t negotiate crime. They have a constitutional mandate to uphold, which is to safeguard citizens and their property, this is why police are exploring all avenues to find and bring to account those who burnt down a taxi, a vending stall or a shop,” Cele said.
The Police Ministry has welcomed the steps taken by the SAPS to deploy more officers to the area to ensure stability, as well as the deployment of more officers as force multipliers to the Walmer area in the province which has seen a spate of murders believed to be related to gang violence.
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