July unrest: struggles and miracles in wake of looting

Pietermaritzburg businessman and tenant at the Greater Edendale Mall Sabelo Vilakazi speaking about the devastation caused by the looting of the mall.Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA).

Pietermaritzburg businessman and tenant at the Greater Edendale Mall Sabelo Vilakazi speaking about the devastation caused by the looting of the mall.Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA).

Published Jul 11, 2023


Durban — Two years on, businesses continue to rebuild after the devastating violent July unrest that saw businesses being looted and some burnt down.

The 2021 unrest, also known as the July Unrest, was a wave of civil rioting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng that lasted from July 9-18. It was described as the worst violence that the country had experienced since the end of apartheid.

It was sparked by protests which later triggered wider rioting and looting,mainly across these two provinces.

Experts said this was fuelled by job lay-offs and economic inequality worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic policies.

Once the dust settled, a week and one day after it began, 354 people had lost their lives and 5 500 people had been arrested in connection with the unrest.

On July 12, the SANDF was deployed to help quell the unrest after it had wiped R50 billion from the economy, and damaged scores of retail facilities and stores, leaving millions jobless.

Two years later the construction of a building is still under way. It was looted and burnt to ashes during the July unrest two years ago at King Cetshwayo Highway in Mayville: Tumi Pakkies/ African News Agency(ANA)

It is believed that the unrest was sparked by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma for being in contempt of court.

Zuma was taken into custody after declining to testify at the Zondo Commission, an inquiry into allegations of corruption during his term as president from 2009 to 2018.

The Daily News spoke to some of the business people who had to start from scratch after the looting.

Sabelo Vilakazi from Pietermaritzburg said he saw all his investments go up in flames on July 11, 2021, when the Greater Edendale Mall, housing three of his stores, was looted and burnt down.

“The three stores were Capital Lifestyle, Afri Herbal and Issa Cash Loans. The loss was estimated at R11 million. The most painful part is that I saw everything as I was called to see what was happening. I saw people looting my businesses. It was heartbreaking, made worse because the people who did all of this were my black brothers,” said Vilakazi.

Two years later, all of Vilakazi’s businesses are back in action.

“I thank God. I’m thrilled to say I was able to pick up the pieces and get my businesses running again. It was not an easy task. It is sad that some of my fellow business associates were not so lucky, that’s why it would have been a nice gesture if the government came up with compensation for those who did not recover, for them to set up their businesses so as to create employment that was lost,” he said.

The National Economic Development and Labour Council’s (Nedlac) Community Constituency head, Thulani Tshefuta, said one should isolate criminality and acts of economic sabotage from the genuine plight of the people.

“We were always on the brink of ungovernability. It was just lingering and waiting for the right moment to erupt. Unfortunately, that moment was in July 2021. We must also look at the socio-economic drivers that make people easily available to respond to such calls for action.

“The signs have already started showing even now, after two years of the July unrest, by the torching of trucks.”

Young people sitting idle when they should be economically active rendered them vulnerable to joining in on protest action, he said.

A KwaZulu-Natal man, Mbuso Moloi, who was dubbed the “Mercedez looter” and thrust into the spotlight after a video of him looting items from Woolworths in Glenwood, Durban, during the July unrest was recently sentenced to three years imprisonment, suspended for five years.

The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) welcomed the sentence.

“As the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we believe that nobody is higher than the law. As organised business, we welcome the judgment brought on Mbuso Moloi.

“We also request and we would like law enforcement agencies to continue ensuring that those who are behind the unrest face the full might of the law," said the chamber’s CEO, Palesa Phili.

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