Riots, theft, & those hit hardest: '14 years of everything gone down in ashes'

Eyewitness News spoke to people whose livelihoods were stolen by the violence and who are searching for the means to start again and rebuild their businesses.

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JOHANNESBURG/DURBAN - From 9 to 17 July 2021, South Africa saw one of its most violent moments in post-apartheid history.

Looting, destruction, and chaos started in KwaZulu-Natal after former President Jacob Zuma was arrested to begin serving a 15-month sentence in Estcourt Correctional Centre after he was found guilty of contempt of court by the Constitutional Court.

The violence spread throughout the coastal province and also started in Gauteng.

Everyone from small businesses to major retailers were ransacked, with some burnt to the ground, costing the economy billions of rands. The greater cost, however, was the hundreds of lives lost over the course of just one week. Thousands of suspects connected to the riots were arrested.

Eyewitness News spoke to people whose livelihoods were stolen by the violence and who are searching for the means to start again and rebuild their businesses.

ASIF RAZA

Asif Raza is a Pakistani business owner in Umkhomazi, a small coastal town in KwaZulu-Natal. He has been living in South Africa for 15 years. Raza's supermarket was completely destroyed during the week of violence and looting. He had put all his investments in this business.

While the building owner has coverage to restore the property, Raza is does not have business insurance.

Despite his toils, Raza remains determined to keep his business open in order to support his wife and two baby girls.

He is currently selling snacks and soft drinks outside his shop from the back of his van.

MARTHA DLADLA*

In Vosloorus, East of Johannesburg, 48-year-old Martha Dladla, who was afraid to reveal her real name, was devastated when she found her small dental practice completely burned down, with nothing to save – not even the roof.

The single mother had been working towards this business for 14 years and it all went down in ashes.

Dladla says she has been having sleepless nights since her only means of income was wiped out.

She still has loans to pay for her children’s tuition fees, but now she says she doesn’t know how she’s going to pay for them.

Fortunately, non-profit organisation Women Alive in Gauteng and non-governmental organisation It’s Not About Me (INAM) are providing her with some assistance.

MELUSI SIBANDA

Four years ago, Melusi Sibanda finally got to have his own tuckshop in his community of Alexandra after working and saving up as a waiter. But all that went up in flames during the week of looting and violence.

Sibanda came to South Africa ten years ago because of the poverty and unemployment in his native Zimbabwe did not allow him to support his wife and five children. He came to South Africa for a better life.

His only means of survival hung in the balance as he was fearful to return to Alexandra to start up his business again.

Fortunately, the Phakama Mzansi organisation stepped in to assist him and now he is getting a new tuckshop in a new location.

MARCO i'NETTO

Marco i’Netto is another businessperson who lost everything when two of his Roman’s Pizza outlets, both in Tembisa, were looted.

i’Netto, who says he has been in the township for over 15 years after he bought the franchise from another owner, is largely concerned the most about his employees who were heavily dependent on the income they made under his employ, “My biggest concern is my staff. How are they going to survive? I don’t even know what I’m going to tell them”.

As he packs remnants in his store, he tells his employees that they are welcome to keep any of the things (tabletops and chairs) that they would like to keep.

i’Netto says his future will also highly depend on what the centre management in Tembisa Plaza says about the future of the place.

SELVAN PILLAY

Selvan Pillay and his wife Annie began their furniture business in 1996, in the community of Umkhomazi. Their business grew successfully when they opened a branch and warehouse in Roseneath.

Their Umkhomazi branch was looted, while their Roseneath branch and warehouse were burned down.

Their losses have run into the millions. Pillay says they are likely to remain closed until October.

While Pillay is still reeling from the shock, he remains hopeful about the country and says that this is the time for unity.

The Pillays are continuing to support their staff with food hampers and provide bursary schemes for the community.

NOKUTHULA MHLUNGU

Nokuthula Mhlungu, a young mother of two, lost her business when looters set the shack she worked from alight.

Mhlungu, who makes and sells amagwinya (fat cakes), kotas and cupcakes, started her small business in Rondebult in Germiston three years ago after struggling to find employment.

Even though Mhlungu’s business was completely destroyed when it was burnt down, she is determined to get back on her feet.

Through Phakama Mzansi organisation, Mhlungu has received various donations in the form of cooking equipment and ingredients, among other things she will need to reopen.

Mhlungu said: "My dream is to achieve bigger things, I see myself achieving things bigger than what I had."

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