Communities are still counting the cost of the July riots, which killed over 300 people in just a few days.
Thousands of people who lost their jobs as a result of the unrest are feeling the full impact of a lack of income, and many families are struggling to find the supplies they used to get from local stores.
Bongiwe Gcabashe, 63, lives in Umlazi, across the street from the Philani Valley Mall. Prior to the unrest, she walked across the street to collect her older person’s grant, do her banking, and go grocery shopping.
During the riots, a fire severely damaged the mall, and it has been closed since. “Now I have to go as far as Pavilion [22km away] and Windermere [27km away]. I was telling my daughter just now that I don’t have salt and I don’t know where I will get it from. It is even worse because this mall might never open its doors again,” she said.
Small businesses that relied on mall traffic are also affected. Nkanyiso Mbanjwa, 26, runs a shack shop across the road from the Philani Valley Mall, where he sells mainly vetkoek, fried chips, sausages, other food items and loose cigarettes.
“I used to get flour [to make vetkoek] and other items I sell from the Spar at the mall. Now I have to travel to Isipingo to get these items. Workers at the mall were my main customers. I even gave some credit and they paid when they collected their salaries. Now they are gone. Other customers bought from me because I was close to the taxi rank. Now, all that business has dried up. We are suffering,” he said.
Retail jobs lost
The Mega City mall in Umlazi has been looted, vandalised, and partially burned. The Toyota dealership in the mall precinct, the township’s only car dealership, was not spared. Cars were broken into, robbed of batteries and other parts, and set on fire.
Frank Apprey, 32, runs his brother’s Sedglo hair and beauty salon in the Mega City shopping centre. Their premises had been thoroughly cleaned. According to him, they were robbed of R52,000 in cash from the till, as well as 15 chairs, eight hairdryers, nine hair clippers, a flat-screen television and home theatre set, cupboards, relaxer, hairpieces, shampoo, and other salon items.
“It has cost us more than R250,000 to rebuild this place. No one is helping us and we have to fix it ourselves. The 10 workers, including four South Africans, who were working here have now lost their jobs. The place was full here before the riots, but now we are lucky if we get two or three customers,” said Apprey, who moved to SA from Ghana.
Aphiwe Nxasana, 24, worked at the Gym Company. She used to walk from Reunion, south of Durban, where she rents a room, to her job at Mega City mall.
“My life revolved around the mall because I was working here, doing my shopping and banking here. Now I am not working. I am now just around at home. The banks and the ATM are closed. Life is hard,” she said.
Nxasana has no idea how she will survive. Some full-time retail store employees have been relocated to non-looted branches throughout Durban. Others have been told that there are no jobs available for them.
Anna Mbihli, 39, considers herself fortunate to still be employed. She was employed at Fashion Fusion in The [email protected] shopping mall. She was transferred to a branch in the city centre, about 22 kilometres away, after the shop was looted.
“I used to walk from my shack to my workplace. Now I have to spend about R60 [on transport] a day to get to work [and back home],” she said.
Dealing with repercussions
The Sasol service station in The [email protected] precinct was broken into and stock, tills and other items looted and the premises vandalised. The owners have partially reopened with a skeleton staff. The service station’s fate is linked to the revival of the shopping centre, because most of the motorists who bought fuel there did so as they were driving to the centre.
Gugu Gumede, 31, is a petrol attendant supervisor. She said the filling station had more than 22 members of staff, but only six are working at the moment.
“We now work between two and three days a week. We don’t do much because there is no traffic coming here. We hate what happened and wish it doesn’t happen again. Now we can hardly afford to pay rent for the rooms we rent at the informal settlement, let alone to send money for our parents and children to eat at our rural homes. Worst of all, I shudder to think what will happen to us if the mall doesn’t open and this service station has to close as a result,” she said.
A 31-year-old man from the Bottlebrush shack settlement in Chatsworth, who asked not to be named, said he succumbed to the temptation to loot at The Ridge shopping centre.
“I am not working and Covid-19 has taken away even the piece jobs we were doing. When I saw people going to loot, I also went because I have nothing here. I looted mostly food. My shack is small so I had to sell some of the stuff I took.”
He said many of the residents who took part in the riots felt guilty and were remorseful. “We now have to walk for kilometres to Chatsworth Centre to buy groceries and small things.”
Several towns in KwaZulu-Natal were affected in different ways. IFP supporters armed themselves and stood guard to prevent looting in the former provincial capital of Ulundi. But they were too late to prevent the looting and torching of nearby Nongoma, another IFP-run municipality.
In Nongoma, people among the looters allegedly shot at three youth leaders, including a ward councillor, as they tried to defend the town. They were lucky to survive.
In Ngwavuma, near the border with Eswatini, the Spar and Big11 supermarkets and two furniture shops were among the stores looted in the town. Residents now have to travel to Jozini, 63km away, or Manguzi, 91km away, to buy groceries, do banking and collect their social grants.
Economic losses in the province are estimated at R20bn, while nationally the cost is estimated to be more than R50bn.
Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Palesa Phili said it is working closely with the government to fast-track the rebuilding process so that residents can use their local shopping centres again.