About 120 Somali-owned small businesses have been torched in Zwelihle, Hermanus, in violence associated with community protests, a group of Somali shop owners said on Tuesday.
"I ran with my children and my wife," said one man who did not want to be named or photographed.
"They burnt my shop, my house, and they turned my car over in the street."
At least 88 people sought shelter at the Ismail and Miriam Ebrahim Islamic Centre in the main road of the whale-watching and tourist town along the Western Cape coast. Others retreated to the community hall outside town while those who could lodge with relatives in Cape Town left for safety.
"There were a lot of burnt shops, all in the name of land," said the centre's Sheikh Aslam Tambara.
"We had no choice," said Tambara, explaining why they took the panicked families and individuals in and gave them a meal and a place to sleep.
Houses, library vandalised
"This is God's place. This is no-man's land," said Tambara.
Explaining the reason for the protests, community leader and Ward 5 ANC councillor Masibulele Jimlongo, said the ongoing protests were over allegations that people on waiting lists for newly built houses were being pushed out of the process by people buying their way into the houses through corruption.
He said prior to embarking on protest action, the community members had agreed to not damage schools and the local library. However, the library was trashed on Monday by what he called "amaparapara" - drug addicts - who had used the protest as an opportunity to commit crime.
It was not clear however whether community members or criminal elements were responsible for the vandalism of the new houses where windows were shattered, doors were left broken and living rooms torched.
Jimlongo said there were swathes of land next to Zwelihle that protesters expected to be set aside for development for residents already living in cramped conditions with overflowing and blocked communal toilets.
He said it is understood that this land had been sold to private developers.
The municipality could not be reached for comment.