After three years of unemployment, Gladys Ntshiba, 51, felt happy when she got a job as a frozen-goods packer at Meat World in Mayfield Square shopping centre in Daveyton, situated in Gauteng’s East Rand. Little did she know that, three years later, she would be standing across the street from her place of employment, watching helplessly as people broke into it and fled with goods.
According to Ntshiba, who lives in Mayfield Extension 8 with her four children, she didn’t recognise most of the people who were appropriating, but there were many young boys and men.
A few days later, on 14 July, Ntshiba was again standing outside Meat World, this time waiting for her employer to arrive with a truck to move what was left of the inventory to safety. There was a heavy police presence, and Kit Kat Cash & Carry next door was also removing what remained of its stock, along with other shop owners in the centre. Some volunteers were cleaning up.
“Our fear was losing our jobs,” Ntshiba said. “We are standing here fighting not to lose our jobs. Losing a job is painful. Some of us are breadwinners at home, no one is helping us at home. I am a mother and I am alone at home. My heart is sore, I am in pain. When this happens, as workers we are hurt, as women we are the ones who are most affected.
“The children who we are fighting for to get jobs? Look, their jobs are gone. The [ATMs] are destroyed, the places we are meant to buy groceries… Where will people get their grant money? There is no place they will be getting that money. They destroyed everything, what will their children get? Children are still going to stay at home [without jobs].”
Pointing across the parking lot at the façade of the KFC that was burnt when the riots started on Monday 12 July, Ntshiba said: “It’s sad that the mall was built for them but it is being destroyed by them. If they burn here, we will lose a lot of things. We will lose and our children will suffer. People have sacrificed a lot to get these jobs. Some had just started working, and their jobs are done, just like that.”
An uncertain future
Her colleague Pedro Nahiha, 47, said he was scared of losing his job. “Your wellness is obviously affected when you lose a job and it’s not nice. When you are working, you can educate your young ones, so when you lose your job, what will you educate them with? It’s more difficult to get jobs during this time of corona. It’s not easy to get a job.”
Nahiha is from Inhambane, Mozambique, and came to South Africa with his wife in the hope of finding greener pastures. He sends most of his money home to his three children. He was working for a metal manufacturer in Johannesburg when he was retrenched in 2015 and remained unemployed until July 2017, when he started working at Meat World. Being unemployed is a state he does not want to find himself in again.
“I am going to be at home for the next few days, and I will only know if I still have a job once my employer has spoken to the insurance,” he said.
Nahiha and Ntshiba were not the only ones at the damaged centre waiting to find out if they were still employed. Daveyton-born Bongani Mokoena*, 26, works as a stock manager at Mayfield Motor Spares and came to check whether there was anything left.
The corner shop, which supplies stock to three other branches, was a nightmarish scene of broken glass and windows, though the door locks were still in place. Mokoena said they had taken money, shocks, drums, tyres, batteries, control arms and more.
“It’s messed up, even my boss isn’t sure what is going to happen. It’s going to affect my livelihood very badly because my wife just gave birth and there are many things I need to get. There won’t be money to get those things at the end of this month if the insurance doesn’t pay him out. It appears I may not have a job. It’s hectic and I am confused, I don’t know what to do. Where will I even begin looking for a job?”
Staring at those arrested sitting in the middle of the parking lot, Mokoena said he found it difficult to have compassion for them as they did not consider him.
“They don’t know that their actions are affecting other people. The people whose stuff they have damaged also have families to feed, and they are only thinking about their stomachs. They are thinking about the present but not the future. At the end of the day, they benefit now, but in the long run they are going to suffer more than the shop owners.”
Driven by despair
Outside the shopping centre, Tebogo Mashiane, 28, and her friends were going through some of the clothes they had appropriated, checking sizes and exchanging what would not be of use to them.
Mashiane lives with her two children in a room she rents for R850, which she pays with the R900 she receives from her children’s grants. She barely makes a living by selling herbal teas and skin products.
“With all this happening, people don’t pay and there is no stock, so what will I live on? This is how I am going to stay alive for now,” she said, pointing at heaps of 12.5kg bags of mielie meal, Mr Price clothing and uncooked meat that she grabbed while fearfully ducking rubber bullets.
Her shoes and jeans were soaked from falling in water puddles in the Shoprite storeroom where food had been taken at an alarming rate. Nothing remained in the store, Mashiane said. A post on social media was what led her to Mayfield Square on the afternoons of 13 and 14 July.
“We thought it would be better to come here instead of staying at home because the shops will close, where will we buy food? It’s better we also come here and take some things. I cannot act better, I can see people taking clothes here, so I cannot run for food only. I am also taking what I can,” she said. “People are taking furniture, TVs, cement, headboards, fridges, doors, building material… people took a lot of things, shame.”
Mashiane was fortunate that her landlady had understood her plight when the Covid-19 lockdown started last year and she could not pay rent. Similarly, Mashiane hoped that she would understand why the rent was late or unpaid now that social grant payments may be delayed because the cash-in-transit industry has been affected by the unrest.
‘Politics don’t pay me’
Mashiane and Nomasonto Nkabinde, 21, had a different goal to Emmanuel Molefe, 39, who had just knocked off from his night shift when he saw the commotion at the shopping centre and opted to join in. He cut and broke his hand as he was running to take alcohol while the police had their hands full with those busy at the food stores. “This is now personal,” said Molefe. “He [President Cyril Ramaphosa] closed our tap. Politics don’t pay me,” he said, beckoning others towards the Shoprite Liquor Shop.
For Nkabinde, though, food and not alcohol was the priority. “Even when they stopped alcohol, we still lived. The issue is food. They will close the shops and we won’t have food,” she said, pointing at packets of soup and bags of meat and mielie meal she had taken.
The food would not last longer than two weeks, she lamented. “No, I am obviously still stressed even with this because it’s not enough. I don’t work. I sell veggies – tomatoes, cabbages and that. They burnt my stock at Skwereng. They started at Daveyton Mall and they burnt there, so our veggies were left charred on the ground. All our stock, and we don’t have money to stock or to buy food for the house.”
Nkabinde, who lives with her three children, said she thought it was better to join the people taking food and stock up with whatever she could find. “I know what we are doing is wrong, but we have got to do this in order to live right now.”
But Ntshiba had no sympathy for them. “They have hurt us, and they have hurt our families and homes. You cannot even sleep when you think of the kind of life your family will live. They didn’t feel any pain for us when they destroyed like this. Where will they buy food? Where will they queue for grants?
“They didn’t care. They are just happy that they will have full stomachs for now, but they will also be crying as we are crying for these shops when they are back to hunger.”
*Not his real name