JULY RIOTS, ONE YEAR LATER
No shops, no jobs – KZN malls and hawkers alike still struggling to recover from looting mayhem
Then and now: Daily Maverick returned to some of the shopping malls that were in the eye of the storm during the July riots that shook KwaZulu-Natal last year. The initial trigger for the violent upheaval that ensued was the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma exactly one year ago - on the evening of 7 July, 2021 . He had been sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court.
It has been a year since the July 2021 looting, but there are many places, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, that are still reeling and struggling to recover.
The unrest – triggered by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma – left more than 340 people dead as shops were looted or burnt and violence erupted across KwaZulu-Natal and some parts of Gauteng.
According to Statistics South Africa, the riots resulted in huge job losses as they interrupted a four-quarter economic growth streak, with GDP contracting by 1.5% in the third quarter. The riots, it said, were the most expensive in post-apartheid South Africa.
Durban and Pietermaritzburg were among the worst-affected areas in KZN, but other towns were paralysed, too. They include the Newcastle CBD, Bulwer and Donnybrook. Other towns such as Umzimkhulu and Underberg emerged unscathed as residents united to defend them.
The Edendale Mall near Pietermaritzburg was destroyed and there are no signs that it will reopen anytime soon.
The Philani Valley Mall, near Umlazi township south of Durban, was looted and burnt, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs. And while its main anchor stores, Spar and PEP, opened for the first time in more than a year on 1 July 2022, many other businesses remain closed.
“The opening of this store has been a blessing to me and my family,” said Ncamisile Mnguni, a cashier at Spar, who said she supports a family of six, including her two young children. She lives in Embutsheni, an informal settlement across the stream that can be seen from the mall.
“I was lucky they called me again to come and work here when the shop opened. Even if I am a casual worker, it is better than nothing. At least I will be getting something at the end of the month.”
Shoppers who took advantage of the opening sale said they now don’t have to travel far to buy groceries or pay for services. Some said that in the days after the looting they had to travel as far as Umhlanga, Amanzimtoti and Durban North, which had been spared the mayhem, to feed their families.
Welile Luthuli (26), who works in Limpopo but was home in Umlazi for the weekend, said the opening of shops was a godsend, especially for her family. “I send them money every month and it is easier for them to withdraw it from this mall and then buy groceries and other essentials.”
Word on the street
The fresh traffic is a relief too for the hawkers who set up shop on the pavement outside the mall, including Nonhlanhla Luphalo (26), who sells hotdogs, chicken livers and kidneys.
“It was very bad when this mall was closed. Since yesterday (when the mall reopened) I have been able to make some money and things look promising. I hope the other shops will soon open so that more shoppers can come through.”
The anchor stores had barely opened their doors when Senzo Ntshiza (28) restarted his own business selling live chickens across the road. Sales were growing slowly, he reported: “I was selling here before the July riots. When the mall was looted my business suffered a lot. I’m hopeful that things will change now, especially if more and more shops open up.”
By contrast, hawkers outside Jeena’s Warehouse and Hypermarket, near the Glebelands Hostel, were despondent. There are no plans for the centre, which was looted and set alight, to open anytime soon.
Balungile Ngcobo (50) said the July unrest was the death knell for many of her fellow hawkers. “We wonder when the owners of this mall will open it, if ever. People who came to buy groceries passed through us and bought from us. There were also people who came to buy goats and once they [were] done they bought stuff from us. Now there are only a few people passing here. If it goes on like this I will have to shut down and stay at home myself.”
At the Ridge Mall in Shallcross, which was among the worst-hit by looting and fire, is being renovated. “We are now putting the tiles and others are putting shop windows. I think it will not take less than three months before we complete our work,” said a construction worker who did not want to be named.
Nolitha Mbewu (32) is one of hundreds of workers who lost their jobs owing to the unrest. She was working in a clothing shop in the mall.
“Looting lasted for only a few days but some of us lost jobs. I’m one of those people whose families are struggling because we are not working,” she said, adding that she has two daughters who live with her elderly mother in Bizana in the Eastern Cape.
Read in Daily Maverick: “KZN unrest cost eThekwini businesses R70bn, and counting – survey”
The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has 3,000 members from the formal sector and 45,000 from the informal sector, told Daily Maverick the looting had had a “truly shattering” impact on them.
Chamber CEO Palesa Phili said 16,000 businesses had been negatively affected, as the loss in sales and stock amounted to R40-billion, while the value of lost equipment and machinery was R20-billion. Damage to property had been valued at R15-billion, with 9,100 jobs at risk.
Read in Daily Maverick: “Cyril Ramaphosa: ‘Attempted July insurrection’ left two million jobless and wiped R50bn from the economy”
In the small town of Underberg, which is 228km southwest of Durban and surrounded by dairy and cattle farms, farmers, a taxi association, local businesses and residents repelled the looters.
Phila Molefe, a manager at the local Spar, said: “The community here were brave enough to defend the town. Without that we could have suffered like all the towns around. After the looting people came from all the other towns to buy here.
“We just wish that situation never happens again. Just imagine if this town was razed… people around here would have had to travel as far as Kokstad to get supplies,” he said, adding that many jobs were lost in other nearby towns as a result of the looting. DM