Joburg explosion: Businesses robbed, close down as repairs continue

'There’s a lot of business robberies and pavement robberies happening because it’s so dark at night,' a business owner said.

Businesses affected by the explosion in Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree Street) last month are closing as they were being targeted by criminals and customers no longer visiting their shops.

While it was still unclear when the damage would be fixed, last week during a media briefing, the City of Joburg estimated that R178 million would be required for repairs to be completed.

City manager Floyd Brink said the cause of the explosion was methane gas from an unknown source which had travelled along the services tunnel to the crest of the tunnel near Von Brandis Street.

When Saturday Citizen visited the area yesterday, some shops were closed while many had put up 80% sale to get rid of their stock.

READ: Joburg explosion: Tunnel, inner city upgrade estimated at R178 million

Some were, however, opened with little to no customers coming in because of the many barricades around the affected area.

A nail bar owner, Jackie Sekonya, said businesses were struggling because of lack of access to the area and closing shop seemed to have been the best option.

Sekonya said the lack of movement by people has also allowed criminals to rob businesses when it was dark.

“There’s a lot of business robberies and pavement robberies happening because it’s so dark at night,” she said.

“I am thinking of packing up and going. There is no need to keep staying here and keep the rent piling up and at the end of the day you owe the landlord a lot of money.

“I would rather go now while things are still better. The next thing for me now is to look for a job, which means from owning a shop, I will go look for a job somewhere else.”

Shop owner Jerry Seleka said a business opposite his shop had to close after it was robbed of all its stock which included sneakers and clothes.

“We are in trouble with criminals, they enter with guns to rob businesses,” he said. “This is their chance to ransack us. The shop opposite mine was robbed of everything and the people who were owning it left immediately after that.

“We don’t think we will also survive for long. We are also looking for ways to escape this place. We are not safe here. There are people who even fear walking on this road thinking this will happen again. We are also scared but the situation forces us to be here.”

Sekonya said following the explosion, they were called by the owners of the building to reopen but it was clear to them that they could not survive for much longer.

“We still have to discuss with the owners of the building about how we will pay rent because there is no money,” he said.

“We won’t afford to pay rent. No-one had come to us to tell us any progress from the municipality as well about how long it would take to fix this issue.”

Brink said the city had to put up a fence between the businesses and the affected road to make sure all the businesses were safe.

He said it could not be that businesses claim they were closing because of the municipality closing the street.

“What we can tell you is that traffic will be limited because the customers will not be able to access the place via vehicle,” said Brink.

“We have thought about how to open the streets diagonally, and there is not a lot of damage but those are things we cannot do until we get clear instructions and professional advice.

“It’s a very difficult one but we will continue to request our residents in that area to remain patient. We do feel their pain, and that is one reason you’ll see we are moving around the clock to ensure we reinstate that place into a place that will be liveable.”

Brink said the city was busy with the designs of the road.

“Now we are specifically looking at doing the final designs. We should be moving to a procurement space very shortly.”

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