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Durban - Hamilton Mchunu sold peanuts on the dusty streets of Clermont township before rising steadily to become a multi-millionaire.
If there was a local equivalent of a Forbes magazine’s rich list, Mchunu could have staked a claim at the top among latter-day BEE hot shots. Except he was self-made.
This week Mchunu, 69, lay dead on the same streets of Clermont, the place he dearly loved, after four unknown gunmen pounced at one of his shops, robbing him of more than R180 000 in cash.
They pumped a bullet into his heart and another into his chest, closing the final chapter in a story of guts and guile and business prominence.
Mchunu’s killers, who are still at large, are said to have escaped in a white Toyota Condor, which was later found abandoned near Pinetown.
At the time of his death, Mchunu employed at least 25 people. His business empire included supermarkets, bottle stores, flats and the 15-room “All In One” hotel, for which he was most known, situated in the middle of the township. A former driving school operator, he once owned an old Toyota Hi-Ace, known as Ingqoshi, but decided against pursuing a career in the taxi industry.
“My father was an astute businessman. He was independent. He never relied on anyone for support. He did things his way,” said Mchunu’s 22-year-old son Gcina, one of 14 children from his two wives.
If a man’s car taste is a measure of sophistication, then Mchunu was not shy about wearing his heart on his sleeve. His 16 cars included a 1950s Studebaker, a 1960s Pontiac, a Mustang and an immaculate 1998 VW Caravelle.
Said Gcina: “My father was a people’s person. If people had problems they could come to him. He was strict and straight-forward, but kind. It’s painful to lose him like this.”
For all his astuteness, Mchunu never strictly followed the corporate manual, which dictates things such as a secure cash collection service, when it comes to banking.
When he was shot and robbed on Monday morning, he was preparing to bank money from the stokvel.
According to Gcina, Mchunu had no known enemies and the family suspects that someone may have leaked information that he was carrying a large sum of cash.
He had had numerous run-ins with armed robbers, the latest being late last year.
Gcina recalled the November robbery. “He didn’t want to leave Clermont because he grew up here. When they came to rob him last year, he didn’t have his gun so he threw bottles and chairs at them. They shot him in the legs.”
On Wednesday, a sombre atmosphere hung over Mchunu’s double-storey home in the relatively upmarket Clermont Extension on top of a hill, as relatives and well-wishers arrived to offer support.
On Thursday, well-heeled mourners in flashy cars filled the Pinetown Civic Hall for the funeral service, bearing testimony to Mchunu’s stature and high public esteem.
Speakers heaped praise on the fallen businessman.
Boy Ngubane, 60, a member of the Clermont Extension Club and Mchunu’s friend for 30 years, described him as a workaholic who respected other people.
“He rose in business during apartheid, when black business people found it particularly hard to make it.
“He worked hard and often got home well after 11pm, after attending meetings. What these people have done is terrible. Taking money and killing, it leaves people hurt and scarred.”
Ten years ago, Mchunu and friends formed a social family circle, the Clermont Extension Club, and bought soccer and netball kit for the youth.
“He was very determined to keep the local youth busy because he knew the devil loves idle hands. We were even planning to buy a piano and teach kids how to play. But, unfortunately, people didn’t take care of the equipment. But we continued with the stokvel element of the club,” said Ngubane.
Of his friend’s death, Ngubane said, “I was with him on Sunday at a men’s meeting. I got a call in the morning to say he had been hurt. We went to Crompton (hospital) and were told he had died.
“We couldn’t believe it. Apart from being a neighbour, I had known him for a long time. We don’t know why people would use such violence and take things from people as if they were their own.”
Rob Asbury, who runs a cash and carry in Westmead, paid tribute to Mchunu.
He told the Sunday Tribune: “Hamilton has been trading with us for more than 25 years. He wasn’t only a trader; we had formed a great friendship.
“He was more than a businessman. He had humble beginnings. We used to talk and he’d tell me stories about how he used to work in the gardens at 13 and sold peanuts to earn pocket money at school. And then he worked his way up until he was a respected businessman in greater Durban.
“He was a wonderful, wonderful man, very passionate and a loyal, honest and reliable friend. He never drank a sip of alcohol, never smoked a single cigarette.
“He deserves the praise he got today… We shared common interests, which included a collection of vintage and modern cars, jazz, and blues music. Hamilton left an indelible mark on everybody he came into contact with.”
Referring to Mchunu’s murder, Asbury said, “This type of thing shouldn’t be happening, it just shouldn’t be. Unfortunately in this business, people are at risk, particularly if they’re handling cash… It’s such a sad loss.”