By Chikondi Chinoka 24/4/15
Malawian residents especially in Mzuzu City on Friday still shopped in Shoprite which is owned by South African based proprietors despite Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA)’s call for consumers to boycott shops with their origins in South Africa.
A random interview with the buyers however revealed conflicting views on the consumer body’s call for the boycott.
Though most of them agreed with the idea of doing something to express disapproval of xenophobic attacks by South Africans against immigrants, including Malawians, the idea of boycotting shops where they get their basic goods was not palatable to them.
“What is happening to our fellow Malawians in South Africa is sad and not acceptable by any standard, but to ask us to boycott South African Shops, like Shoprite here, is not a good idea because this is where we [Malawians] can get quality and affordable basic goods,” said Boniface Mbira, one of the shop’s customers this reporter talked to a few minutes after Mzuzu Shoprite opened on the day.
Ann Chipaka, who was on transit from Lilongwe to visit her daughter at Mary Mount Girls Secondary School in the city, decided to grab a few groceries for her in the supermarket before proceeding to the school despite being aware of CAMA’s call.
“I am fully aware of CAMA’s call to stay away from South African owned shops. But while on transit, I heard on radio about government saying that it will be wise to wait for South Africa-Malawi talks [on the issue] to end, but I really could not tell which of the two to follow,” she said.
The shop commenced sales an hour later than the normal opening time of eight o’clock in the morning.
Mzuzu Shoprite Branch Manager, Lusayo Nyondo, said they wanted to be sure it was safe for business, taking into account CAMA’s call for boycott to buy from the shop.
“However, since it opened at 9:30 in the morning, we have not seen anything suspicious, so we will remain open as the police have already assured us that all is fine,” said the branch manager.
According to Nyondo, sister shops in Lilongwe and Zomba were also open. However, as the reporter went to press, the two PEP stores in the city were closed.
CAMA on Thursday called upon all Malawians to boycott South African-owned shops like Shoprite, Game and PEP, as one way of sympathizing with Malawians who have been victimized in xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
On the other hand, government, while realizing that Malawians have a constitutional right to free speech which encompasses the freedom to hold peaceful demonstrations, maintains its position to give dialogue a chance with South African authorities.
And in Kasungu, PEP Shop which is the only SA owned shop in the district at around 10:00 am Friday, the shop was still closed with still bars despite the normal opening hours of 8:00am.
Additionally, the shop which by this time is heavily patronized was seen deserted and none made his way to the shop as they continued to pass by.
Most residents said there is nothing they are to lose compared to the barbaric acts displayed by the South Africans on foreigners.
Moreover, they called for permanent closure for such shops, saying that they charge exorbitant prices as compared to other shops owned by foreigners.
“Can you imagine our relatives are dying there and we keep buying things in shops belonging to them? Compared to our innocence as Malawians, I support this move to have shops owned by them closed.
“Even such shops, their goods are so expensive as compared to shops either owned by Malawians and other foreigners. Let us support ourselves than doing trade with an enemy…” one lady expressed her wish.
Eliza Phiri who owns a merchandise shop opposite the PEP shop told the reporter that despite the closure of the shops, less Malawians working in such shops would be affected as compared to the multitudes of them fleeing the rainbow nation.
“Most people migrated to SA long time ago and had vibrant establishments worth appreciating and there is no way they can be sent packing and harassed in just a day.
“As they are back home, it means their worth accumulated in SA is gone and it will be hard for them to start all over, a development which is worrisome,” she said calling for an immediate solution to such unacceptable acts.
One PEP said the shop was closed as directed by the top management in fear of losing more goods as they thought that the angry residents might descend and attack it.
“We did not open our shop for business today just because it is a directive from our management. All this is being done to protect the goods as we feared they could come and break into the shop.
“But we hope that business will resume tomorrow (Saturday) when our shop will be opened again,” said the employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In the tourism district of Mangochi, PEP shop was closed and some foreign businesses, especially those run by Burundians were also closed.
Some Burundian business persons said they were afraid that the situation would turn violent, hence the decision to close their shops.
Only one Burundian identified as Edward opened his shop. Edward said some of his countrymen were afraid to open their shops as they thought the ‘Black Friday’ protests would turn violent.
“I have opened my shop and my fellow Burundians have not opened their shops as you can see, my friends said that they are afraid that this ‘Black Friday’ can lead to violence which can led to attack of shops owned by foreigners,” Edward said.
There was no police presence in the streets of Mangochi.
Unlike in Blantyre and Mangochi where some shops were closed as a result of ‘Black Friday ‘boycotts, the situation in the old administrative Capitol, Zomba was different.
Zomba remained calm, but the city was engulfed by heavily armed police.
Banthu Times has established that business was normal in the city with Shoprite and PEP stores opened. Customers were busy buying from these South African owned shops without hurdles.
There was also no presence of CAMA officials or groups dressed in black as was the case in Blantyre.
Zomba Police Public Relations officer Patricia Supuliano said that the law enforcers were on guard to protect life and property in case some people decided to go violent.
On Thursday government spokesperson, Kondwani Nankhumwa presented Lilongwe’s position on the protests.
“Government wishes to give these processes a chance while its efforts continue to secure and support the lives of Malawian citizens that have been affected by the events in South Africa.
“This notwithstanding, Government realises that it is under the obligation to uphold the dictates of our Constitution, among them the right of expression, which encompasses the freedom to hold peaceful demonstrations, ” said Nankhumwa.