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'What is important is our lives': Retailers hit by looting plot comeback

Margaret Hirsch joins Massmart CEO Mitch Slape in sharing how they are looking ahead after devastation

Wendy Knowler Consumer journalist
Hirsch’s executive director Margaret Hirsch in the remains of the appliance retail chain’s Springfield Park store.
Hirsch’s executive director Margaret Hirsch in the remains of the appliance retail chain’s Springfield Park store.
Image: Supplied

More than 31 of retail giant Massmart’s stores and facilities — including the massive Riverhorse Distribution Centre and the Makro in Springfield Park — have been destroyed.

“Most of them were Cambridge Food stores, all but four of them in KZN,” said the group’s corporate affairs executive Brian Leroni. “We’ve had a massive outpouring of support from our customers on our platforms.”

Massmart CEO Mitch Slape has since Monday been sending a nightly letter to all 48,000 of the group’s staff members. In Wednesday night’s one, he wrote: “It often happens in difficult situations that our emotions can go from very high to quite low.

“I felt a little like that yesterday when I wrote that the police were restoring order at our Riverhorse Distribution Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, only to hear later in the evening that the DC had been breached and set alight.

“The loss of the Riverhorse DC was a tough blow. The good news is that we have sufficient capacity in our current distribution centre network to fill the gap.

“We are also in the very fortunate position to be in the final stages of completing the build of a new state of the art distribution centre in KwaZulu-Natal that is scheduled to open later this year.”

He told them how he’d been “really heartened” by the many messages of encouragement from customers “who have seen the impact of the criminal action in KwaZulu-Natal on our stores”.

“My favourite Twitter comment, because it really captures the way that the Massmart leadership team is thinking about our business, was: ‘You guys will come back stronger'," he said.

Margaret Hirsch, executive director of the Durban-based nationwide appliance chain Hirsch’s, spent Wednesday cleaning up the remains of the group’s Springfield Park store. “Luckily it was only the one store,” she told TimesLIVE.

“In one hour the store, built up over 20 years, was destroyed by an unruly mob.

“They threw fridges down, stood on hundreds of thousands of rand of TVs — they even took (husband and co-founder) Allan’s amazing collection of cricket bats and smashed all the windows, before setting fire to the building.

“Luckily for us the ceiling collapsed and put the flames out so only one part of the building was burnt.”

Undeterred, Hirsch said the family would “build a bigger, better, strong company”.

“We have forgiven all the looters and we have realised that what is important is our lives. We are intact and we can rebuild.”

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer

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