Former Orlando Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi is unsure when, if at all, he will be able to reopen the doors of his restaurant after it was destroyed by looters in South Africa recent political unrest.
Protests erupted in Durban and Johannesburg on July 9 after former President Jacob Zuma was arrested for disobeying the court. Zuma had repeatedly failed to appear before the commission of inquiry during his presidency on charges of alleged corruption and was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
The weeks of unrest almost saw $ 350 million in damages, over 200 dead and over 160 shopping centers looted to the point of destruction in two large provinces. The police, unable to suppress the looters, eventually sought help from the military while Civilians took it upon themselves defend their communities.
Current President Cyril Ramaphosa described the protests, which turned into civil unrest, as “an orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction and sabotage”. While the original protests turned into opportunism, questions remain about the reasons behind it while the country struggles with mass unemployment and poverty.
Lekgwathi told ESPN that he thought the looters would avoid the Grootman [his nickname, meaning Big Man] Restaurant in Soweto for its community reputation. But it turned out to be wrong.
Lekgwathi said, “I was at home and got a call [saying] that they started looting in Kliptown [a suburb of Soweto]but they said my shop is safe.
“I thought, ‘It’s safe’ because I know the people from there. They love me, they respect me. Most of them know football, they support football and they support the store.
“It was around 10 o’clock. After a couple of hours they said [that] in our mall they were busy with the shop next to me. My shop is next to the gate – they passed my shop and went to the second shop.
“Then they went to the [nearby] Shoprite [store] and then they came back. There were two guys – they went into my shop, kicked the door in – it was like they were playing, you know. They kicked again, they banged on the locks. They meant business now …
“After they opened the door, other people – [I don’t think it was] their motive to join the boys, but because the shop was open, even they joined. They took everything with them, including the plugs and cables – they took everything with them. “
A rock solid and versatile defender, Lekgwathi led the Pirates through their most successful period of all time, winning the league title and two national cups in 2010/11 before repeating that feat in 2011/12 and securing an unprecedented “double triple”.
He joined the Buccaneers in 2002 and stayed on board until he retired in 2016. ‘Grootman’ was his next adventure until disaster struck.
He added, “It was sad to play football and save money for 20 years … after you retire, say that you have something to help you get food on the table then comes someone and destroy it just like that. “
The restaurant, which only opened in April of this year, was doing relatively well thanks to local support for the longest-serving pirate captain, but not yet well enough to be able to afford insurance.
‘Grootman’ explains, “We were just waiting to make money so we could have the insurance. Even cameras – we bought them, but we didn’t have the money to install them. We were still waiting to make money.” Unfortunately, this looting happened before we could install cameras or get insurance. “
After Lekgwathi suffered tremendous damage, estimated by Lekgwathi to be around R400,000 (about $ 28,000), they were given back around R20,000 ($ 1,400) in donations by the following Saturday. Since then, he has launched another call to the public to help rebuild.
Unlike footballers in Europe, the South African player does not reach the astronomical sums that many expect, hence the cry for help, having invested all of his savings in the original build. Though compared to the whole country, one of the more unequal as far as earning in the world is concerned, that is certainly not to be despised.
Raised from humble beginnings to a superstar, Lekgwathi initially did not know what to do with the comparatively large sums of money that suddenly became available to him during his football career. In its prime, it was making over R 150,000 (about $ 10,400) a month. He first invested in real estate before working with Reza Amod, the director of a national seafood restaurant chain.
With eight employees in a country with 32% unemployment, Grootman by Lucky Lekgwathi began to thrive, largely thanks to the popularity of the former Bafana Bafana player in his community.
Although Lekgwathi assumed that his restaurant would survive the riots unscathed, three employees stayed on guard last Monday. But when the mob attacked the restaurant, they were powerless to save it.
“Lots of people were busy fighting. They went in and broke the doors. I was outside. I tried to go in but I couldn’t,” said Grootman chef Fana Dube, a local from Kliptown.
Much to the chagrin of Lekgwathi, the South African Police Service (SAPS) could not stop the looting either. Dube said he has not spoken to the police while Lekgwathi has not yet opened a case, although he says he might reconsider once he has gathered enough evidence.
“After the names (of looters) are shown to me, I’ll talk to the people. If they don’t want to obey, I’ll go to the police. I have no rights to do anything against them, so I’ll go to the police,” he said .
Arrangements are being made for all eight to take alternate jobs, including pop-up restaurants under Lekgwathi and Amod, while they await Grootman’s reopening.
However, since there was no concrete reopening date in sight, Dube said that they miss their old jobs: “Our lives will be better if [it reopens]. We all miss it. We are stressed; even our boss is stressed. We don’t know what to do. “
There is hope on the horizon for Grootman, however. Donations are still being received and Lekgwathi has been visited by the Minister of Small Business Development Khumbudzo Ntshavheni and the Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.
One of the unintended consequences of the looting and violence was: broad wave of volunteers who have helped, unsolicited and without hope of compensation, to clean up affected areas and thus promote a sense of community and teamwork.
Lekgwathi has received similar assistance and says, “We organized to clean, but some people just went there to clean without telling me. You have volunteered [on Friday]. The rubble was already removed.
“The support from the people has been amazing and amazing. Even now I still get messages on my social media, some of which I can’t even read. At one point I had 400 messages on my WhatsApp, which is amazing and crazy. The support was like that Great.”
Although he hadn’t entirely given up holding them accountable, Lekgwathi said he had forgiven the rioters who destroyed his restaurant.
He said, “I wanted to meet one of them (suspected rioters), but I was too late. I wanted to go to him and speak to him as a brother and say to him: ‘Look, I forgive you are my friend.’ I know after I forgive them they will take care of the shop.
“I’ve done too many things wrong and people have forgiven me. I’m a Christian – I go to church, I read the Bible, and I’ve learned too many things from the pastors, forgive them, and then you have to pray for them so they don’t repeat the same mistakes.
“We [South Africans] are brothers. We have to lead like brothers and get South Africa somewhere. “