July unrest | Lucky Lekgwathi on rebuilding Grootman after looting

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Lucky Lekgwathi at his new restaurant. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Lucky Lekgwathi at his new restaurant. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

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July brings vivid and bad recollections for Orlando Pirates legend Lucky Lekgwathi.

When violence swept through Soweto last July claiming his restaurant, he thought his business dreams had perished.

Protesters ransacked his restaurant in Soweto during the countrywide violence and unrest over the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma last July.

READ: Nothing but bad luck for Lekgwathi

Lekgwathi couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a man dislodging and stealing a light bulb inside his Grootman restaurant in Kliptown after it was destroyed and looted by unruly protectors.

I just stood here helplessly as I saw him on the table and removing the light. At the time, nothing was left but broken glass.

“I didn’t think something like that would happen to my restaurant because people from the community interacted fondly with me and they loved our food,” he said from a now bigger and more picturesque Grootman eatery at the Southdale Mall in Johannesburg.

His new joint has his iconic image of him in a Buccaneer jersey laminated on the windows.

Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

Walking in, customers marvel at signed jerseys of current players, including Kermit Erasmus and Linda Mntambo, hanging on the walls.

READ: July unrest: How I bore witness to history being written

The former football player and restaurant owner recalls a friend alerting him to the looting that unfolded in Soweto. At the time of that phonecall, only the neighbouring shops had fallen victim.

I was told that the community initially did not want to loot Grootman but after the shops next to it were looted, about six people instigated that the restaurant be looted and unfortunately now the people who loved our food are suffering.

The tragedy of losing a business a mere three months after opening shop has taught him to prioritise insurance and opt for a safer community.

Crowdfunding helped him restore his business. This was spurred by photographs of his destroyed eatery going viral on social media, which he attributes to him being a “people’s person” and staying humble throughout his football career.

“A lot of people have told me in the past that I am not only the captain of Orlando Pirates but also the captain of society. I have always had time for people, either when they want to talk to me or just take a picture,” he says.

No walk in the park

Rebuilding the business was not an easy task.

Lekgwathi struggled to find a new venue in a less threatening environment.

Although he felt that leaving Kliptown was not necessary, he heeded the call from his customers who thought that the area was no longer suitable for his clientele.

“After the looting it was like people were now aware of Grootman and everybody was looking for it. So when we reopened here there was a lot of support from the people, and I was surprised to see some of the customers we served in Kliptown.”

READ: Tembisa community use their bodies as shields to protect mall from looters

He pointed out that taking the restaurant to the Southdale Mall was a big risk because rent is higher.

“Business is about taking risks. We took a risk in Soweto and the restaurant got looted but now the risk is paying off.”

The football legend has set his sights on lending a helping hand to today’s football stars.

“I advise a lot of guys to get into this sort of business and have something to fall back on to generate money and put something on the table after their playing days are over.”


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