Where do we go from here? Looting rampage shatters sisters' dreams
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Johannesburg - “What’s next? Are we going to start eating each other?“
This is the question an Inanda business owner is asking South Africans after her livelihood was completely destroyed during this week’s looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, and her sister are, or rather were, the owners of Stepping Stones Technology and Training in Dube Village Mall, Inanda.
“I started this business in my lounge with just three computers in 2009. In 2012, we were able to move to better premises and we were on our way. Before this happened, my sister and I were running two labs, we employed 21 people and now everything is just gone,” said the devastated Black Business Forum (BBF) member, whose entire life has come to a standstill after a mob set fire to the Dube Village Mall last Sunday night.
“I received a call from centre management at around 22h00 to say the mall is on fire. When I could enter the business on Monday morning, I was just broken. Everything was gone. A guy in my area, who was one of the looters at the mall, told me that he tried to stop the mob from entering our premises but they hit him, took and broke everything,” she said.
The mother of three was unemployed before the computer business changed her life and the lives of her family.
“We were one of the first to bring the internet to Inanda and we and the people were so excited that we were finally a part of the future. It really was a big deal for us. We were teaching people how to send emails or even to surf the internet. Schools were using our facilities, ECDs (Early Childhood Development centres) were using our facilities, churches were using our facilities and now there’s just nothing,” she said.
The sisters, 38 and 45 years old, supported 20 family members by running their two computer labs, offering anything from computer training, security training, transporting staff in their own car and even printing services to the Inanda community.
“Right now, we cannot even afford to pay the funeral plan of R835 for our family members. If anything were to happen to anyone in our family, I honestly don’t know what I will do,” said the woman.
To add to their woes, they now also have to reimburse people who paid up front for computer training. But there is just nothing left in the kitty.
“We also didn’t have insurance any more. When Covid-19 hit in March last year, we had to cut expenses and that was one of them. We had to reduce our staff from 21 to just five and now we ourselves are unemployed,” she said.
Despite paying rent of R18 000 a month for their set-up at the Dube Village Mall, the women survived and had plans for expansion.
“The people who did this to us, not only destroyed our labs but also our plans, our hopes and our dreams. This was our dream,” she added.
While it’s still early days for the cyber sisters, they estimate the damages to be in the region of R1.5 million and that excludes the loss of income for the sisters and staff.
“We have no direction right now. We have bills to pay, school fees and families to feed,” she said.
But despite the dire situation the woman finds herself in, she still finds time to volunteer at Inanda FM and the stipend she receives is the all that keeps the family of 20 going.
Pinetown business owner, Kofi Opare, lost two salons on Sunday and Monday night and is not sure if he will be able to reopen. Opare, who is a school teacher, said it’s not even about the R180 000 he pumped into the two salons, nor the R100 000 in damages or the R10 000 products that were destroyed or taken, it’s about the loss of jobs.
“I employed 10 people and now they are all unemployed. I will still try to give them something each month while we wait to see what the future holds,” said Opare.
The salon owner also had to cancel his insurance when Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
“I don’t even know for how long I will be able to help my staff. After I pay my expenses there isn’t much left from my salary. I want to say to the people who did this that you are cutting off your noses to spite your faces. When your looted goods are finished, what are you going to do?
BBF spokesperson, Sifiso Langa, lamented what he called “the poor response of the government”.
“The damage cannot even be quantified. It’s not just black business because black business doesn’t operate in isolation. We are part of the bigger economy and if the bigger economy is disrupted, we are all affected,” he said.
Langa said while mop-up operations were under way, BBF was concerned about food security, health systems and especially people who are reliant on chronic medication.
“We are trying to pick up the pieces. We are worried about our members. As is, it’s difficult for black businesses to get funding from commercial banks and now it’s going to be even more difficult,” he said.
The forum said many warehouses across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal have been burnt down and their top priority now is to find a safe place where business owners can store their products and keep distributing.