Several stalls were set alight at the Pan Africa Mall in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg on Wednesday night.
It is believed that stalls belonging to South Africans were set on fire after an altercation between members of Operation Dudula and illegal foreigners.
City of Johannesburg Emergency Medical Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said the fire broke out before 9pm.
“Last night at around 8.30pm we responded to a fire incident at the Pan-Africa Mall in Alexandra. A number of stalls outside the mall were on fire. Seven to eight stalls were affected. We managed to extinguish the fire to prevent it from spreading to nearby stalls,” said Mulaudzi.
Mulaudzi said the cause of the fire is being investigated.
He said investigations are under way to determine the cause of the fire.
“We also want to distance ourselves from allegations that the fire might have been caused by an altercation between members of Dudula [Operation Dudula] and foreign nationals. We do not want to involve ourselves on that one. We do not have evidence to that effect.
“We are conducting investigations as to determine the cause of the fire incident and preliminary investigations will tell us as to what might be the cause of the fire,” said Mulaudzi.
When the news crew visited the scene of the blaze on Thursday morning, dozens of people were standing next to the stalls looking on as their owners were walking through the debris, cleaning up and trying to find what was left from the damage.
Mokgadi Mashitatona, 51, whose family ran three of the burnt stalls, said they lost stock worth R60,000 in the fire.
“This business helped us to buy food, pay for our children’s school fees and buy more stock. I do not know how we are going to survive,” said Mashitatona.
Last month, angry Soweto residents tossed an ultimatum at Police Minister Bheki Cele to get rid of the foreign criminal informal settlements within a month or they’ll do it themselves
“… and you’ll have to dig plenty of graves afterwards,” the residents said
The gauntlet was thrown down by Operation Dudula leader Nhlanhla “Lux” Mohlauli, who said: “If the squatter camps are still there on Sunday [29 May], you might as well prepare a mass funeral because we’re going all out, guns blazing.”
Operation Dudula and Mohlauli are no strangers to controversy.
The group is a vigilante organisation that targets foreign nationals in Alexandra, accusing them of taking jobs from locals, with some of their actions being deemed not legal.
In March, Mohlauli was granted bail of R1,500 by the Roodepoort Magistrate’s Court following his arrest on charges of malicious damage to property, theft and burglary.
The charges were in connection with an incident in which he and Operation Dudula members ransacked Soweto resident Victor Ramerafe’s home in search of drugs.
They were apparently acting on tip-offs that Ramerafe’s home was a drug den, but no drugs were found.