South Africa police arrest 121 after looting of foreign-owned shops

Locals look on as young women run with items from a shop believed to be owned by a foreigner, in Soweto on Jan 22, 2015. South African police said they had arrested 121 people on Friday after mobs went on a looting spree of grocery stores owned
Locals look on as young women run with items from a shop believed to be owned by a foreigner, in Soweto on Jan 22, 2015. South African police said they had arrested 121 people on Friday after mobs went on a looting spree of grocery stores owned by foreign nationals in Johannesburg's Soweto township. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South African police said Friday they had arrested 121 people after mobs went on a looting spree of grocery stores owned by foreign nationals in Johannesburg's Soweto township.

Dozens now face charges of public violence - including a police officer caught on film participating in the looting, Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba, police commissioner of South Africa's economic hub Gauteng, said at a press conference Friday.

The violence erupted after a foreign shopkeeper shot dead a teenager who had allegedly tried to rob him on Monday night in the iconic township.

"Young boys wanted to rob a shop and the owner opened fire and killed one of them," police spokesman Kay Makhubela told AFP. "That made the community angry, and that's what started all this." At least 80 shops, most of them owned by Somalis, have been looted over the past few days, he said.

On Friday, Mothiba reported "strengthened police deployments" across Soweto, which was a crucible of the fight against apartheid.

"We are pleased to report that after the flare up yesterday afternoon, the situation was relatively calm overnight," he said.

Dozens of those arrested appeared in court Thursday on charges of public violence, with scores more set to appear Friday and Monday. One person is being held for murder while eleven will answer unlicensed firearms possession charges.

Most of the arrested are between the ages of 20 and 31, he said.

"Various items such as fridges and groceries valued at thousands of rands were seized during the arrests," said Mothiba.

A second person was killed on Wednesday night, but police said they were still investigating the circumstances.

Amid widespread poverty and unemployment, frustration in Johannesburg's run-down neighbourhoods often boils over into anti-immigrant violence.

In 2008, deadly xenophobic violence broke out around Johannesburg townships, killing 62 people.