Looters and fire cause damage worth millions at Patel Group buildings in Kamhlushwa

Looters stream into the supermarket next to Patel Hardware last Thursday. Photo: Swift EMS.

KAMHLUSHWA – Looters walked through fire to steal from the wholesalers and supermarket in the Patel Group building on the main road last Tuesday evening and Wednesday.

This was in retaliation for an employee, who was supposedly assaulted earlier that day for allegedly stealing money.

Const Zithulele Mhlongo of KaMhlushwa SAPS stated that, according to information received, three employees had been accused of stealing money. Two gave back the cash but the third denied any knowledge of the theft.

He was then allegedly assaulted by the shop’s management.

Members of police visited the complex to investigate reports of the assault and found the victim, severely injured. He was taken to hospital for treatment.

A case of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm was opened.

READ: Store and warehouse in KaMhlushwa looted and set on fire

Willis Guillaume, of the Patel Group, explained that the owners of the wholesalers and supermarket are renting the building from them and that no Patel staff had been involved in the incident.

They also do not condone the tenant’s actions and believe that the theft case should have been handed over to the police.

When community members started looting the shops that night, Patel’s staff at the neighbouring hardware store were told to evacuate. They were taken to Malalane to ensure their safety.

A block of flats on the property was also ransacked. Guillaume mentioned that only two Patel employees lived at the flats, while the other residents were members of the community.

During the chaos, police officers spotted two of the supermarket’s employees setting fire to a part of the building.

They were arrested for arson, and officers confiscated containers with flammable liquid.

According to Frits Koekemoer of Swift EMS and the local fire department, he responded to reports of a fire around 02:30. It took hours to contain the blaze.

Timber burning inside the hardware’s storeroom. Photo: Swift EMS.

Once it posed no danger to others, they decided to let the fire burn itself out. By Tuesday morning, some smoke could still be seen hanging in the air around the building.

Guillaume stated that looters walked into the burning building to grab whatever they could and that this continued throughout the night and Wednesday.

Mhlongo said that seven community members were arrested for possession of suspected stolen property. They appeared in the Nkomazi Magistrate’s Court.

KaMhlushwa SAPS station commander, Capt Mzwandile Nyambi, was very disappointed with the community’s conduct, especially the fact that children also participated in the looting.

The supermarket, wholesale building and hardware storeroom were badly damaged.

The wholesalers and hardware storeroom going down in flames. Photo: Swift EMS.

Luckily the hardware store itself was not damaged or looted. Hi-Tech Security Onderberg was appointed to help protect the premises from any further damage.

Guillaume said about R1,2 million’s worth of stock, including timber, was destroyed in the hardware storeroom.

The supermarket and wholesalers also reportedly contained several million rand worth of stock, which was either stolen or burned.

READ: Community justice claims two lives in fire

Guillaume referred to a message that had been sent across the country, which alleged that R40 million of stock was looted and burnt. He said that, according to his knowledge, this figure was extremely high and that the actual figure could be closer to R14 million.

“If we decide to rebuild, it will cost us around R8 million, because we’ll need to start from scratch. We’re waiting for the police report before we decide on our course of action. I don’t think the people who were involved in this incident realise that 80 people have now lost their jobs,” he stated.

The Patel Group’s main focus is currently their new store in Hazyview, which will open on November 10.

Community members with any information that could help the police in their investigation are urged to contact W/O Mduduzi Shongwe on 071-462-2754.

  AUTHOR
Retha Nel

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