Shop owners latest target of gangs

Demands for ‘protection fees’ of up to R250 a time on the rise

SHOP owners in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas are livid with gangs holding them ransom with demands of “protection fees”. In the past three weeks, at least four shop owners in Cleary Park, Sanctor and Korsten say they have been forced to cough up between R50 to R250 – sometimes every second day.

Gangs demand the money, claiming to protect the business from other criminals. If the shop owners refuse to pay the “protection fees”, gangs threaten to rob their businesses.

The shop owners, asking not to be named, said they had reported the racket to the police.

But police spokesman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said: “No official cases have been opened.

“The protection fees must be a new thing but nothing has been reported as far as I know.”

A 36-year-old Korsten shop owner said not much could be done by the police. “We don’t blame the police,” the shop owner said.

“We do see them patrolling our area but the gangsters look and dress like normal people, so police can’t identify them and they [gangsters] just wait for them to leave.”

The shop owner said the demands had picked up since the beginning of the month.

“They take about R100 each time they come and take food out of the shop. At the beginning it just happened once a week, but last week they were here three times.”

A 48-year-old Sanctor shop owner said he was ordered to hand over R250 as a protection fee.

“It is very scary. These guys never come alone – there are always two or more,” he said.

“Sometimes there is a gun but most of the time they have knives. These criminals are stealing the food out of my family’s mouth.”

A Cleary Park shop owner said he had been operating in the area for almost eight years with no problems apart from an occasional robbery.

“We live in a country overrun by crime, so it is not surprising I have had break-ins twice in the last eight years,” the 53-year old said.

“The frightening part now is how brazen the criminals have become.

“They used to sneak into your business to rob. Now they come in the middle of the day and ask for money.”

In October, gangs in the area targeted taxi owners and drivers.

The drivers and operators said they and their passengers were often robbed by gang members, who demanded a protection fee.

The situation reached boiling point on October 29, when a stand-off almost derailed the flow of traffic in Nelson Mandela Bay after taxi operators demanded an immediate end to gangsterism in the area.

Taxi driver Wilfred Johnson said: “Since then things have got better.

“We see a lot more police patrol and clearly it is working because since we had that protest nobody that I know of has been asked for protection money.”

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