Owner of three looted petrol stations worried about his 100 workers
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Sibonelo Mbatha whose three fuel stations were looted and torched in KwaMashu and Ndwedwe during the unrest, is more worried about his employees than himself.
Mbatha, 45, a former petrol attendant, who came to own his own service stations, had developed a strong bond with his employees, some who have worked for him for almost 15 years when he opened his first service station.
He attributed his success, which has now been reduced to ashes, to the hard work and loyalty of his employees who would now have to join the unemployment queue.
He employed about 100 people at the three sites.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune while safeguarding the remains of one of his BP filling station franchises in KwaMashu’s Dube village, Mbatha said the good relationship he had with his staff assisted him in expanding his businesses even outside Durban.
However, this week's unrest has taken him back to square one.
Mbatha said that a fuel station was valued at about R15 million.
He became emotional as he recalled his long journey to become one of the successful black people in the fuel industry.
Mbatha felt he was let down by the same community he served and supported him in the growth of his business.
His torched stations were in Inanda and Kwamashu and Ndwedwe.
“I have trusted this community ’KwaMashu’ as I have done everything in my power to give back, but they let me down.
“This station fed so many families and empowered the youth of this area.
“I always ensured that I took part in every community initiative to lend a helping hand because my business is nothing without them.
“But what I saw during the week was like I was in a foreign land, where nobody has ever seen me.
“They looted everything they could including the ceiling board, toilet seat and electric plugs. Can you imagine that?
“At other stations they siphoned fuel to burn down the buildings. I’m devastated,” said Mbatha.
Mbatha said although he knew that his businesses were going to be looted and vandalised two hours before it happened, he said he was vulnerable as police were stretched through the township.
He said he just told his employees to run for cover while looters took everything they could before they torched the stations.
Having started from the bottom as a petrol attendant, Mbatha said he would apply his skills and experiences to bounce back but felt sad for his employees who would be without a job during the process.
“I know I will survive because I walked every step of this business to get here.
“I am more worried about my employees who have no other options. I know their plight and what this job meant to them.
“I have communicated with some of them and they are struggling to come to terms with what has happened.
“I wish I could do something, it is very sad,” he said.
Mbatha said he would not be able to open one of his stations which was completely burnt down but added that he was looking forward to rebuilding the other two.
As the situation remained uncertain, he was spending the nights patrolling what remained to keep looters at bay from vandalising what was left such as underground tankers.