Violence, looting and sheer destruction of property have been the order of the day in South Africa since protests that ensued over the weekend in the aftermath of former president Jacob Zuma’s incarceration last week. While to many it is just news, for Thuthuka Mabunda this is the beginning of an uncertain future.  

On a cold morning in Johannesburg, Mabunda helped by his dad, is seen loading clothes dripping of water into the boot of his car at the Chris Hani Mall in Vosloorus.  

Looting had just taken place overnight, and an attempt to start a fire and reduce the mall to ashes like in some parts of the township had triggered the automatic fire-extinguishing system inside the mall, filling the place with water everywhere and leaving Mabunda’s clothing stock completely drenched.  

“We received a call late on Monday and we arrived here this morning (Tuesday) and we found practically nothing. We have lost 95% of our stock. Right now, we are just trying to salvage whatever that is left but it’s practically nothing,” laments Mabunda.  

For the past 10 years, Mabunda and members of his family started a clothing business selling on the streets. And when they eventually could afford to rent a space at the mall, The Lab, a clothing store was born. While they never made much to afford life in the suburbs elsewhere, they made enough to survive in the township and run a decent household. But after one night of sheer destruction and lunacy, all is lost and the whole family is without any source of income. 

“It’s very sad because I don’t think we will ever recover from this. For 10 years, we have been here. But I guess this is the end of the road. What can I say? It’s our people who did this to us. That’s the worst part. It shows that the people have been aware of the store, they knew what to take because they knew that some of the things we were selling were very valuable. Now, we are just left with debts because in any business to operate you get into debts because of loans and credit from suppliers.” 

With many businesses having closed shop since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mabunda says as a family they made sacrifices that kept them going and were looking forward to a post COVID-19 era when businesses would start being profitable again. But little did they know, an even worse tragedy was in the offing. 

“Already, it was very tough because of the current situation (COVID-19), but now things have just gone otherwise. I don’t think there is a point of return now. I will never forgive a black man for doing this to us. A black man like me did this to me,” says Mabunda with tears welling up in his eyes. 

“So, right now, we don’t know how we are going to survive and pay our debts. This was our only source of income as a family. It’s a family business. We all work here. We have children and we don’t know how we are going to pay their school fees and maintain the household going forward.” 

The Mabundas are not the only family trying to salvage what is left of their business. A few metres away, Isaac Mtshali, owner of an internet café, is only loading dismantled parts of three computers that remain. A total of eight computers have been stolen, a printing machine damaged, and future wiped out.  

“I only came here this morning and this is what it is,” he says. 

Mtshali had four employees plus a technician, an intern and volunteer hoping to gain some experience to improve her chances of employment in the future. Right now, everyone is jobless, further limiting the chances of the volunteer worker getting employed anywhere with many better experienced workers joining the list of the jobseekers.   

Chris Hani Mall, where more than a hundred have been arrested, is not the only mall in the area left in ruins.  

Firefighters were hard at work in the weeing hours Monday trying to put out fires that had engulfed Letshoho Mall in Katlehong. On the other side of the township, the Sam Ntuli Mall resembled a war zone after looters had spared no shop completely cleaning all of them out including a Pharmacy section inside the Clicks Store.