Soweto businesses vandalised, robbed as looting and violence spreads

A stone’s throw away from Freedom Square in Kliptown, Soweto, the place where the Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955, looters trashed supermarkets, furniture shops and an optometrist’s office and other shops were set on fire on Monday afternoon. 

Hundreds of residents were seen with armfuls of stolen goods that included household appliances, furniture, food and alcohol. One woman, in black pumps and washed-out jeans, struggled to carry 5kg of chicken portions and two six packs of Savanna cider while balancing two 10kg bags of rice on her head. 

Running away from a patrolling police van her chicken portions fell. She took off her black hoodie, loaded the ciders inside it and used it as a carrier bag. She ran straight in between the shacks in Vaalkamers, a high density area near Freedom Square.  

Ten people have been confirmed dead as the violence, intimidation and looting that engulfed parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal continued on Tuesday. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday evening that six people had been killed in Gauteng and four in KwaZulu-Natal. 

The looting and burning of property and vehicles, which started in KwaZulu-Natal after former president Jacob Zuma was taken to the Estcourt prison last week, having resisted until the last minute to hand himself over to the police. He was sentenced to 15 months for defying a constitutional court order to give testimony at the Zondo commission into state capture.

Soldiers have been sent to some hotspots in the two provinces to assist the police in quelling the riots and theft. 

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said on Monday that the situation has been hijacked by people who are not ANC supporters and were engaging in pure criminal activity.

“The economic disaster we are seeing has criminal elements now, and it is not related to the former president, Jacob Zuma. We are worried because poor people on the ground will be affected after this. Law enforcement must do it’s work and contain the criminality,” said  Mabe.

In Soweto’s Jabulani Mall, scores of people plundered furniture, clothing, liquor, pharmaceutical and appliance shops. The police and members of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) clashed with the thieving residents. At one stage the police were outnumbered and were seen running for cover.

By 6pm on Monday, most retail shops at the mall were almost empty of goods, including Dis-Chem, Woolworths, Shoprite, OK Furniture, Game.

Looters were dispersed by members of the TSU Protection Services who were shortly joined by South African National Defence Force soldiers. 

Some looters left for their homes but others inside the mall were chased out by teargas and rubber bullets. The looters turned on the private security guards and the soldiers, throwing petrol bombs and stones. But the rioters were soon overpowered.

But the destruction in Kliptown was already done. Several small businesses were broken into, emptied and vandalised by looters. Farouk Ramera, of Lenasia, owns a furniture shop in Freedom Square. The looters kicked him out of his shop at about 3pm, vandalised it and stole furniture worth more than R400 000.

“I begged for the police to help me, they said there is nothing they can do for me. I ran for cover and they [the looters] threw stones at my car. My younger brother was hit in the head,” he said. 

“I am out of options now, I don’t know what I am going to do. But I know that I won’t manage to open the shop again. I will also go look for a job, and so will the five people I was employing in the shop. We are finished now and we don’t have insurance.”

Ramera said he had been running the shop for 10 years and he never imagined that this was  how it would all come to an end.

Nokuzola Mthiya, who had a street food stand in Kliptown, said the looters stole the food she had prepared to sell and then stole her cooking equipment.

“They took everything in my stand and I just decided to run for my life. I am a mother of three children. They depend on me only. I am feeling hopeless and so defeated by this,” said Mthiya. 

Other shops were saved because their owners closed immediately the violence started and guarded them. 

Shops in other parts of Soweto, including Zola, Dobsonville, Meadowlands and Orlando, have also been vandalised and robbed.

Steven Barn, of TSU Protection Services, said one person had died in Dobsonville on Monday. The guards had, however, managed to contain looting before the mob could get into Shoprite.

“When they attempted to break in we were already inside the store. We managed to scare them away and secure the inside,” he said.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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