Armed men demand security contract from owners of looted Umlazi mall
In the same week the Philani Valley Mall in Umlazi, south of Durban, was looted and vandalised, a group of armed men claiming to belong to a local business forum demanded the owners award them a security contract to protect the property.
Gary Gould, a shareholder of the mall — as well as that of Dube Village Mall in Inanda, north of Durban, which was also vandalised by looters last week — told TimesLIVE on Tuesday that so-called business forum members now posed another threat.
“One forum arrived at Philani with machine guns at the weekend. The community was helping us clean the centre and they just chased everybody off site. The word I got initially was that they were taking over the property and claiming it as theirs.”
But Gould later established that the men wanted a security contract.
The minute you start any form of business with them, you are making them successful and legitimising their crime.Gary Gould
“I committed to meeting them this week and they left.
“Two hours later, another bunch of machine-gun wielding guys arrived there. We thought they were the same guys, but it seems they are from a different forum.
“I'm actually too scared to go out there and meet them. I really don’t want to have to do business with them.
“My security company said they would attend the meeting as well.
“The minute you start any form of business with them, you are making them successful and legitimising their crime. You end up being forced to entertain them to prevent you from losing more money.”
Gould said the group claimed they could have prevented the wanton looting and damage to the centre had they been on guard.
“We are a shopping centre, we don’t want armed people on site otherwise shoppers could end up getting caught in the crossfire if there is an incident.”
Gould said he was unsure about what to do about the “business forums”.
“We will have to inspect the damage and speak to our insurance company and then start making decisions from there on what we are going to do.
“I am trying to organise trauma counselling for my centre manager, she's a mess.”
He said while the forums had not yet visited Dube Mall, the damage and looting there was greater than at Philani.
“Our other mall, the Dube Village Mall in Inanda, has been worse affected than Philani in terms of the damage and looting. About 40% has been burned down. The entire Shoprite has been gutted by looting and fire.
“The looters came back multiple times there, the sprinklers would put the fire out and they would come back and start another fire.”
Gould said shareholders would have to wait for their insurance to pay them before repairing and rebuilding.
“We have to wait and see how long it's going to take for the insurance to pay. At the end of this month we obviously are not going to get any rent money. We still have to pay our bonds and so on. At this stage we are uncertain what is going to happen.
“Our teams are going out to assess the damage. It all depends on how much structural damage the fires have caused. If it's just looting damage then obviously the cost is a lot less. With Dube Mall we are looking at least R40m to rebuild.
“At this point we don’t have much of a choice but to rebuild because the malls are not fully destroyed. We would lose a lot of money if we didn't rebuild.”