The aftermath of looting at Jabulani Mall in Soweto, Johannesburg. Picture: Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi
The aftermath of looting at Jabulani Mall in Soweto, Johannesburg. Picture: Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi

When we talk about investors, people think of a besuited US millionaire making decisions from New York or a chino-clad Jack Ma rubbing his chin reflectively from Beijing. Of course, the Germans and the Japanese and these other foreign investors are important. That’s why our politicians are constantly speaking to them and reassuring them about our stability and our future.

Yet I’ve been around long enough to know that the most important investors are right here, in SA. When domestic investors are happy, the word spreads to potential partners across the globe that SA is open for business. The SA government does not get Toyota to invest here. A local businessperson says to Toyota: come, we can make good money — and create jobs – in SA.

You cannot have foreign investor confidence when local business confidence is in the toilet. The locals are our most important investors.

Those investors are people like Mike Nkuna, developer of the Protea Glen Mall (valued at R700m) and Jabulani Mall (R1.4bn) in Soweto. Those investors are businesses like the Müller Group, which until last week ran four shopping centres in KwaZulu-Natal alone.

Nkuna’s two malls were ransacked by thousands of looters in the orgy of lawlessness SA witnessed last week. The Müller Group now has only one functional mall in KwaZulu-Natal. The other three were invaded, looted and very nearly destroyed.

Nkuna and the Müller Group are not the only ones. Hundreds of shopping mall developers and owners, plus their tenants and workers, are contemplating the future sombrely this week. Thousands of jobs have been lost; thousands of livelihoods have been destroyed; billions of rands of damage has been done. What do these entrepreneurs, the people who create jobs and keep this country’s economy alive, do now in the aftermath of these mad, stupid, selfish and Machiavellian riots?

In an interview with the SABC, Nkuna said he now faces the very difficult task of convincing fearful tenants to bring their businesses back to Soweto. That means the convenience available to a Mrs Dlamini or a Mr Nkomo, who shopped in their neighbourhood, may no longer be available to them. They will have to board a bus or take a taxi when they could have just walked.

Even if there is a rebuild, the many new input costs — whether it’s a huge new insurance or security bill — will make things more expensive for Mrs Dlamini. That is the cost of this mad plot to undermine our democracy. It is the poor who suffer.

Will these investors have the faith to rebuild?

This is the question consumer journalist Wendy Knowler put to Wynand Müller last week. He answered: "I am scared to answer that question. My heart says no, but my brain says we have to. It’s such a tough one. We are developers, but do you really want to rebuild for people who just burnt it down? On the other hand, if I look at it unemotionally, life goes on — we have to rebuild."

You cannot have foreign investor confidence when local business confidence is in the toilet

That is the peril SA finds itself in now. Our entrepreneurs will invest cautiously, with fear and trepidation in their hearts. The psychological damage of the past two weeks is deep and will take years to heal.

In his turn, Nkuna said it’s his intention to approach investors and tell them the malls are still a good investment. "But we cannot do it alone, we need the government," he said.

Müller said plans to build three more malls and two filling stations in KwaZulu-Natal have been placed on hold. A mall is set to open in Bethal, Mpumalanga, in November.

"We pray the community leaves it alone," he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken about economic sabotage. This is the true economic sabotage. It is not the damage that has been done, it is the loss we will suffer for what has been done to confidence in this country.

For those who continue to support people like former president Jacob Zuma, the man in whose name, if not at whose instigation, this was done, my question is this: how do you call yourself a leader when you are prepared to burn your country’s future to protect yourself?


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