It could take two months to get the Soweto shopping malls owned by entrepreneur Mike Nkuna back in business.
Nkuna said he has “forgiven” those who looted and left behind a trail of destruction during the recent unrest that plunged parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal into chaos.
He has now shifted his focus to rebuilding. Nkuna’s Bara Mall, Protea Glen Mall and Jabulani Mall were among those that were damaged in the unrest, which started in KwaZulu-Natal and spread to Gauteng, hitting Soweto, Vosloorus, Mamelodi and Katlehong the hardest.
It was left to the centres’ owners to assess the damages. Nkuna said he refuses to be discouraged by the wide-scale destruction.
Although seemingly in high spirits, he recalled the Monday on which he drove to Soweto and arrived at what resembled a war zone.
He went to Jabulani Police Station, across the road from Jabulani Mall, only to find equally terrified police officers standing behind a closed gate.
He said there was nothing he could do until it was all over. Nkuna expects to receive an estimate this week of the total cost of damages and how much infrastructure he needs to rebuild.
“The trail of destruction was very bad. They damaged our beautiful infrastructure and, while we have insurance, the setback is not good. On the other hand, our people out there destroy what is theirs only to suffer later, finding themselves having to buy basics like a loaf of bread far from their areas and at a higher price.
“The burning and destruction started in 1976 when black [people] did not have guns to fight the apartheid government, and they targeted businesses and infrastructure owned by that government. Our people now need to be educated and understand that these malls are the beginning of our own economy.”
Nkuna hinted that before they were destroyed, Jabulani Mall was worth about R1.4 billion and Protea Glen Mall about R700 million.
He has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reassurance that the SA Special Risk Insurance Association (Sasria) will step in to assist businesses that suffered damages and losses.
During his address to the nation on Sunday night, Ramaphosa announced that: “Sasria has committed to expediting the payment of all valid claims, and is working together with private insurers to ensure that assessments are completed without delay.Government will ensure that Sasria is able to honour all of its obligations and will provide whatever support is necessary in this regard.”
Nkuna said this was music to his ears: “We could be up and running in two months. We’re delighted to hear that Sasria will be fast-tracking processes, and small businesses that did not have insurance will also be assisted.”
As part of the rebuilding process, Nkuna said he and his team are communicating with shop owners: “We are engaging retailers and convincing them not to move from the townships. We are hoping to be successful.”
Government needs to launch critical campaigns about the importance of the local economy and the role of malls in that ecosystem, Nkuna added.
“This is the time to stand together and build our own economy in townships and rural areas. This is only the beginning [of a journey] towards building our own cities. These malls were the beginning of building our own rural and township economy. What has happened is not going to stop us from pursuing that vision. It has happened, we were hurt, we cried and now it is time to stand up and move forward,” he said.
“It was one step back, but I see us going 10 steps forward.”