KZN business operators seek safety assurances
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Durban - Business owners in Southmead, an industrial node in Mariannhill are mulling over the viability of operating there, considering the losses they sustained during the unrest last month.
They also expressed concern about a possibility of more attacks on their businesses in future while some have acted more decisively and closed shop.
Local community leaders, fearing further economic depression in the area, began engaging with business heads to allay their fears this week.
Led by ward 16 councillor Stanley Buthelezi, members of a local business forum and the SAPS met with company owners and managers with the hope of establishing a working relationship and tackling their main concern, “security”.
Disconcerting for the businessmen was that while the looting occurred, the SAPS’ Public Order Policing (POP) unit, which is a stone’s throw away from Southmead, did nothing to prevent the attacks.
During the Sunday Tribune’s visit to Southmead this week, the team noticed various factory buildings and warehouses with extensive damage. Smoke was still billowing from one of the factories razed to the ground and a nasty odour lingered in the air.
The stench emanated from a cold storage operation which housed large stocks of meat and other food items before it was plundered.
It took Bafana and Palesa Dube 20 years to build their electrical business, 3 Core Electrical, into a multi-million rand firm, with a well established black empowerment ethos.
But it came to nought when looters invaded their business premises in Southmead before setting it alight.
Bafana Dube said the estimated damage to the building alone was around R10 million, which excluded equipment and stock items belonging to the electrical side of their business that Palesa ran.
“When I heard what happened, I was paralysed, hopeless and powerless,” he said.
Dube said they were, however, determined to build their business again.
“We have to start from scratch and we no longer have the advantage of our youth.
“It will be unfair for us to collect the insurance money and run along. We feel we have a responsibility not only to our employees but to our communities as well.”
Before the violence flared up, Dube said, they had about 140 employees, with the majority of them being locals.
He said Palesa was very passionate about training electricians – 100% black and 70% female – and engaged with local community and business forums wherever they worked.
Dube was unable to attend this week’s meeting but is looking forward to the next sitting, and was familiar with Buthelezi and others as they had assisted them with community projects in the past.
Raj Krishna is another Southmead business owner who must also rebuild from the ground up after looters destroyed his logistics and warehouse company.
Krishna said 25 trucks were damaged and a massive quantity of stock items that were due for distribution were stolen from his premises.
He said they relocated to Southmead three years ago but the infrastructure that was destroyed took nearly two decades to build.
“The cost of just the stock was about R15m, that excludes the 25 damaged trucks, with some burnt to the ground.
“It is not something you can easily stomach. We grew the business from nothing, now it has been reduced to nothing,” he said.
Krishna said he watched on his phone, via cameras at his premises, as his property was being destroyed.
“It was horrendous. The POP unit is within walking distance from us, but we received no protection.”
It struck him as odd when some meeting attendees asked what the businesses were going to do to help communities, yet they were the victims of the violence.
He hopes discussions at future meetings will head in the right direction where the community and businesses could derive mutual benefits, instead of it being another talk-shop.
“I have invested so much here and we have bills to pay. I can’t move elsewhere.”
Danny Padayachee, whose logistics business is based in Southmead, said his property was also looted and some of his trucks were badly damaged.
Padayachee said it would be hugely disappointing for him to leave because he purchased his property in Southmead mainly because it was close to the N3 and it was also a convenient way to get onto the M7 and head towards the harbour.
He hoped the meeting would eventually produce assurances for the businesses that they could operate safely once again, and was optimistic positive outcomes could be achieved.
A senior SAPS official, who addressed the meeting, said at the time of the riots they were not in a position to respond appropriately but they want to “improve” their service going forward.