Watching the rampant looting and unrest unfold reminded businessman Mike Nkuna of the 1976 riots. But while the destruction methodology used 45 years ago was well organised and focused, the anarchy which played out two weeks ago was “leaderless”.
“The leaders supposed to lead society or the community, they are not in the township where things are happening. Once they get positions, they move to the [suburbs] but still call themselves leaders of the community,” said Nkuna, who still resides in a village in Limpopo and “know how black people live”.
“[When we were] fighting … apartheid, black people didn’t have any guns to fight the machine orchestrated by the apartheid government. The only thing to fight the government was destruction methodology, targeting government institutions.
“We decided the destruction will focus on that, but we will protect things that were going to help black people, things like libraries, schools, black businesses that were there, they were protected. Throughout 1976, no black business was destroyed, it happened like that because we had leaders on [the] forefront.
“This destruction was leaderless.”
The entrepreneur, who is also the founder and chairperson of the Masingita Group which owns 15 shopping malls around the country, on Thursday spoke at a Proudly SA dialogue on the economic landscape following the recent unrest.
He recalled arriving at Jabulani Mall as the shopping centre was being plundered and making the decision to “try to be clever”.
“I said ‘if we fight back, the people are going to burn the mall’. So [I said] ‘open the gate – people must just loot’,” he said.
“That helped us, because I have some foresight.”
He said similar to the apartheid government allocating 80% of its budget to developing urban areas and the rest to township and rural development, the democratic government similarly channels the lion’s share to this sphere.
He called for greater buy-in for the development of rural areas and incentives such as tax benefits to encourage businesses to open facilities such as factories.
“I am a positive man; I believe in positiveness, trying to find solutions on how to move forward,” he said.
“My vision is simple – I want to see townships be turned into cities.”
He estimated that it would take two to three months for Jabulani and Protea Glen malls to be operational again, although Shoprite would reopen on Friday at Jabulani and next week at Protea Glen.