Counting the costs: South African businesses destroyed by unrest

JOHANNESBURG, July 14 (Reuters) – After losing 53 cars in xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2019, Johannesburg car dealership owner Okey Uchendu never thought he would see his business destroyed again by civil unrest in less than two years.

Already facing the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, Uchendu received a call at midnight Sunday saying his concession was engulfed in flames as looting and violence, the worst in South Africa in years, escalated, destroying hundreds of businesses.

“I am speechless,” the 45-year-old man, standing next to 58 burned cars, told Reuters on Wednesday. “I feel like killing myself because my livelihood has been taken away from me. I was sitting crying helplessly because I can’t do anything.”

Among the badly burned cars was an unrecognizable second-hand Range Rover Evoque valued at Rand 220,000 ($ 15,000), which rubbed shoulders with low-end and high-end cars.

“All those things are gone. I don’t even know where to start because how am I going to start. I still have to pay my rent, I have three children to take care of, how am I going to take care of my children? ”said Uchendu, visibly moved.

Triggered by the jail of ex-President Jacob Zuma last week after he failed to appear for a corruption probe, the unrest has turned into a wave of anger over poverty and inequality. Read more

Many small, medium and microenterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa are uninsured, making attempts to recover those damaged in the unrest even worse.

“We, the small businesses, nobody wants to insure us here in Jules (rue), it’s a high risk area. When you call insurance (the businesses), they say no, it’s a high risk area. “, he said of his company which employed 16 people. .

A survey by the Small Business Institute (SBI) last year found that up to 55,000 SMEs may not survive the COVID-19 pandemic. With the unrest, the number is expected to increase, SBI chief executive John Dludlu told Reuters.

More than 200 shopping centers have been looted or destroyed and more than 600 stores have been set on fire or damaged so far, the South African Landowners Association said on Wednesday.

The liquor industry said more than 200 liquor stores were looted in the provinces of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng, which are most affected by the unrest.

Bigger companies like clothing retailer Mr Price (MRPJ.J) have been forced to temporarily close hundreds of stores after being completely looted, with some shopping centers also closing.

“Investing in this particular property here, in this area, I got out, I was done,” Uchendu said.

Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Toby Chopra

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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