Vhembe District Municipality’s environmental health deputy manager, Mr Kharivhe Rembuluwani (middle), with Thulamela Mayor Athongozwidivha Sarah Rambuda (right) during their inspection. Photo: Maanda Bele.

Foreign-owned spaza shops under fire


Foreign-owned spaza shops have always been considered among the most trusted businesses in townships and rural areas. That was until recently, when scores of consumers started complaining that these spaza shops were selling expired, counterfeit, and illegal goods.

The foreign spaza shops, mostly owned by Somalians and Ethiopians, who are commonly known as “Bo-myfriends”, are hugely supported by locals because of their affordable prices and availability as they are found on nearly every corner in the townships and rural areas.

Ms Tshifhiwa Mudau, a local resident in Mahlarini village in Dopeni, said the reason why she bought from the foreign spaza shops was that they were cheap and not far from where she lived. “It doesn’t take me five minutes to get to the spaza shops. They sell simple products like bread, soft drinks, and snacks at affordable prices. I recently saw on social media that most of the products they sell are fake. Although I have to agree that some of the things they are selling taste different, I am still going to buy from them because they are close by and cheap. We don’t have money; the economy is very bad,” she said.

Limpopo Mirror also spoke to one of the foreign spaza shop owners, who asked to be named Alex, to hear their side of the story. Alex said they bought most of their stock from a trusted supplier in Thohoyandou. “The expired goods and illegal cigarettes may be our fault. We don’t always check the expiry dates, we admit that. But you will also see Coca-Cola trucks delivering soft drinks. My friend, I have heard people saying we have created factories that manufacture fake food. Not me. Maybe our suppliers, I don’t know. I also eat this food that I sell, but only if it is halaal. Come here every morning, and you will see bakeries delivering fresh bread, and yet we are blamed for everything.”

Alex believes that the big local shops in the rural areas and townships feel intimidated by the presence of spaza shops, and that everything is politically influenced. Three weeks ago, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi responded to the public outcry about the quality of food sold at spaza shops by urging all municipalities to audit spaza shops owned by foreign nationals in their jurisdictions.

The Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment, and Tourism (LEDET), in partnership with the South African Police Service (SAPS), Home Affairs, and local municipalities, recently started the auditing process at local spaza shops, wholesalers, supermarkets, shopping centres, and malls, searching for illegal license holders, illegal permit holders, illegal foreigners, foreigners with expired documents, unregistered businesses, and even locals who accommodate illegally operating businesses within their premises.

Officials from LEDET, SAPS, SANCO, and the Community Policing Forum also conducted an inspection at the Siloam CBD in Nzhelele, Makhado ward 33, where they found illegal cigarettes and expired goods.

LEDET spokesperson Mr Zaid Kalla said the need for the raids was motivated by the number of mushrooming businesses owned by foreigners within the province, the selling of expired products, selling of unknown products, and unlicensed businesses. “During the raids in Limpopo, J534 fines (admission-of-guilt fines, which are fines paid for less serious environmental offences in terms of Section 56 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977) were issued to the value of R25,000, and undocumented foreigners [were] arrested and detained,” he said.

Kalla emphasised that the raids were not xenophobic attacks but a simple audit. Thulamela Municipality also heeded the call by the health minister and started auditing spaza shops in the Thohoyandou CBD. The audit was led by Mayor Athongozwidivha Sarah Rambuda. During the inspection, the mayor discovered plenty of expired goods. At some spazas, the owners were even bathing inside their shops. Thulamela spokesperson Mr Nndwamato Tshiila said the expired goods were destroyed, and the spaza owners were issued with a warning. He added that the municipality was still going to inspect other areas such as Mutale, Sibasa, and all the spaza shops within Thulamela.



Date:18 November 2023

By: Maanda Bele

Maanda  Bele, born and raised in Nzhelele Siloam, studied journalism at the Tshwane University of Technology.

He is passionate about current news and international affairs.

He worked as part of the Zoutnet team as an intern in 2017.

He is currently a freelance journalist specialising in news from the Vhembe district.

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