“There is Unity in Community”
A little over a month ago, on 12 July, KZN was burning – riots and looting consumed an economy already threadbare and brittle from Covid lockdown. This devastating act of widespread civil unrest further divided communities causing untold damage to businesses, destroying properties; and threatened to extinguish forever the already spluttering, dying embers of the spirit of Ubuntu.
Not to talk about this feels dishonest. To pretend it didn’t happen feels fake. One can’t hide such rage, disappointment and fear in a cupboard and lock the door. One can’t smile and wave one’s way out of it. Catharsis and healing are only possible if we speak out, address the issues and try and make good.
So, one month on – how are we doing?
“It’s not quite business as usual,” considers Paul Paine, Chairman of 1000 Hills CTO. “We were limping before, and this has virtually crippled us. “There is huge unseen damage in the persistence of Covid regulations which impacts negatively on tourism and hospitality in particular,” he said.
So, is it all doom and gloom?
“No of course, not,” says The Valley Trust’s S’bongiseni Vilakazi emphatically. “We have to make sense of it and find opportunities midst the crisis. Even the darkest clouds do still have silver linings. A very deep sense of community has emerged which is something special. That’s not fake, it is very real. Before, everyone was snug in their silos, but there is now a sense that we are all in this together. Good things are coming out of this.”
Speaking to 1000 Hills stakeholders, the refrain is clear and consistent: “There is unity in community.”
“Neighbourhoods have come together in an unprecedented manner. There has been great fellowship and camaraderie. It’s a pity that it took this disaster for us to get to know each other better, but certainly we need to acknowledge the deep sense of connection and support that we have discovered through this process,” continues Paine.
“The strength, loyalty and love shared among our community members has been extraordinary, and we would like to commemorate and celebrate the power of our Upper Highway family for many years to come,” enthuses Elizabeth Roux, Marketing Manager of Watercrest Mall. All of their 128 shops were destroyed in the looting. “Support from the community for clean-up and assistance at the mall has been streaming through. We cannot express our gratitude enough!” says Roux. After tirelessly working to restore and refurbish, a month later 80 plus shops are operational. “That is more than halfway!” she says.
Vilakazi, a skilled and experienced facilitator, is focusing on community healing. He is designing a study to look at crucial areas which need interrogating and urgent dialogue in the valley: trying to understand the mind-set and motivation for people doing the looting; trying to understand why people were looting their own communities (only three out of the 30 spaza shops in the valley weren’t destroyed by valley residents); trying to install a sense of consequences for actions, and trying to create within communities, the means by which we can avoid disturbances in the future.
Vilakazi and other key stakeholders are working to identify and groom community leaders into being bold and decisive and to position themselves to call out the rabble rousers and hold them to account.
“There is a hunger for unified action in a constructive way,” he explains.
And proactively, going forward, community leaders are developing a system of First Responders – identifying, training and resourcing key personnel and structures to be able to respond efficiently to emergency situations in the future.
Vilakazi is working closely with a team of apolitical stakeholders – leaders from NGOs, the faith community, CSI initiatives and business: the newly formed Outer West Business and Community Initiative, which has been registered as a non-profit.
“We are finding sustainable ways of making positive change – which is exciting,” says Gary Duggan – one of the founders of the Outer West Business and Community Initiative. “We don’t want to perpetuate hand-out scenarios, that is neither honourable nor sustainable. We have been forced to look at the situation and find synergies to increase impact. In getting together, we can get a better overview of what is needed and how we can work together to address these needs.”
On Woman’s Day holiday, Craig Charity founder and owner of Lineage Coffee, led a “4 x 4 for Good” initiative – 50 vehicles in convoy taking food parcels into the valley – not just as handouts, but as a mechanism for community engagement; an endeavour to initiate social interaction, and for the kids to get to know each other. “The impact wasn’t huge, but it was super exciting!” said Duggan.
“We are grateful for the incentives and relief funding from eThekwini – capital and grant financing – for small businesses who were affected,” acknowledges Paine. There is also activity around getting meaningful rate rebate relief, which makes a huge difference for struggling hospitality SMMEs. The Covid relief rates rebate has been extended for a further three months from 1 July.
Successes are openly applauded: for example, the iconic Heidi’s Farm Stall relaunched and re-opened and was able to sell fresh produce when it was in short supply elsewhere.
“My message is, 1000 Hills is open for business. We aren’t operating at full capacity, we are still working under Covid restrictions, we are missing our international guests and we are still re-building from the unrest – but we are here. We are doing what we do best. We will get through this.
“We warmly invite you to support us; to come and enjoy our 1000 Hills hospitality. To enjoy a drive, a fabulous meal, a cold beer, a weekend in one of our awesome B&B’s, an activity – or a steam train ride, all with breath-taking views. You are welcome, pull in, we would love to host you! We are living proof that indeed “There is unity in community”.