Katlehong-based optometrist, Nonkululeko Mdluli (35), has been dealt a painful blow by the recent looting sprees that have taken place across the country.
Her optometry practices in Vosloorus and Katlehong - which she owns together with her father who's an optician - were both destroyed on the same evening.
The business was established in 2010 soon after Mdluli had graduated, and their first practice was opened at Chris Hani Mall in Vosloorus back in 2010. The second practice, based inside Sam Ntuli Mall in Katlehong, had only been opened about a year and half ago.
“The owners at Sam Ntuli had approached us in 2015 saying that they liked the look and feel of our store,” she tells TRUELOVE.
“It was another good opportunity for us to be in that space because we had clientele that side in Palmridge, Thokoza and Katlehong. We only expanded to Sam Ntuli Mall about a year and a half ago.”
Seeing the looting happen live on camera footage
Soon after they had opened the second practice, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and they fought to keep the business running even with the challenges that they faced as a result of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns.
“You don’t understand how I felt on Monday when the manager sent out messages that they can’t stop the people from getting in anymore,” she says.
Mdluli adds that their practice in Chris Hani Mall (Vosloorus) had been burnt to the ground, so the cameras were not operational and so she couldn’t see footage of what was happening there. But they were able to watch, live, as their practice in Sam Ntuli Mall was senselessly looted - a pain that she says she can’t even describe.
“Opposite our practice is an OK Furniture store, and they have devices such as TVs that people would be drawn to take. So, the whole time I was watching the footage, I was shaking and praying to God that no one thinks of going into our practice, because you know it only takes one person to look and go there and the rest will follow. Unfortunately, this became the case.”
Here's a look at the store before and after the looting took place at Sam Ntuli Mall in Katlehong:
She says that the most painful part was watching the looters destroy the machines in the practice and take parts of them - particularly because they were of no value to the looters, but cost a lot of money for Mdluli to have.
“I don’t think I have ever felt that kind of pain in my life. Both practices gone just like that in one night… one night?” she says.
Struggling to sleep that Monday evening, Mdluli waited for the curfew to end and left her home for the Sam Ntuli practice at 4am on the dot. She was rushing to see what she could possibly salvage, but there was nothing.
“The machines that we keep in the practice are extremely expensive; how does one even take a machine and just break it or take half of it,” she says.
“This is why I say that a lot of this was just thuggery and not necessarily someone in need; it's mostly people who just don’t care and feel entitled.”
She went on to say that the reason she opened her practices eKasi was because growing up, the only optometrists she had ever known eKasi were often foreign nationals, and people would always get the same kind of frames.
“I wanted to change that perspective and show that we can be our own optometrists, who understand the nuances of our needs and bring in things that spoke directly to us as a people.”
Facing her employees
Tuesday morning was particularly tough for Mdluli. Over and above having to deal with the losses of her two practices the evening before, she also had to face the four women that worked with her in the business. She broke down as she told of how she was not able to even look them in the eye.
“I’ve actually grown with these ladies because they’ve been there since day one,” she says.
“For me, they are like family ndoda; it’s one of those things where I know their children and families and they know mine - they are like my sisters.”
“And now I’m supposed to tell them… tell them that I can’t sustain them. With what? Yes, insurance is there and what not, but when will that happen? When will the mall decide that they are renovating and are going to open up again? In the meantime, what’s going to happen?”
She says that these women are breadwinners for their households.
“It might be fun and games for people that are looking from a distance, but it’s a heart wrenching reality for us,” she says.
“It’s like they (the looters) have no idea of the bigger picture at all. It’s just painful, I don’t want to lie.”
Mdluli says that she has not received any communication as yet from the mall owners about a way forward.
“I don’t even know what I’m going to do for myself.”
According to Bloomberg, over 200 malls have been affected across the country.