'Worse than lockdown': Street vendors calculate cost of Joburg's deserted weekend blast

‘Worse than lockdown’: Street vendors calculate cost of Joburg’s deserted weekend blast

Ayman Abdullah Holdar is a clothing store owned by Lilian Ngoyi Street.

Ayman Abdullah Holdar is a clothing store owned by Lilian Ngoyi Street.

  • The first Saturday after the week’s deadly Joburg explosion saw a significant drop in business activity in parts of the inner city.
  • Traders running their businesses on Lilian Ngoyi Street said the situation was “worse than lockdown”.
  • One businessman said he spent R750 a day on petrol to run his generator, compared to R500 on electricity every two days.

Quiet streets guarded by police, blaring generators, merchants in despair – such was the scene of Lilian Ngoyi (formerly Wild Street) in downtown Johannesburg on the first Saturday after a deadly gas explosion devastated parts of the busy street on Wednesday.

News24 returned to the epicenter on Saturday.

On an ordinary Saturday, street merchants run a busy and profitable business. But the explosion that unexpectedly cleared the streets and accompanied pedestrian traffic left them without customers and limited their losses.

“This is worse than being closed,” said Ayman Abdullah Holderar, who owns a clothing store on the corner of Gwigui Meroubi and Lilian Ngoyi streets.

“During the lockdown, transportation was available, roads were not closed, and we had electricity,” he said.

When News24 visited his store, there were no customers, just four employees on the floor. A generator outside the entrance kept the lights on in the shop amid a power outage.

Services to and around the blast area were cut off as officials determined the cause of the blast.

This was a very strange scene for the crowded street, said Holder.

“I did not expect the explosion to affect my business in this way. Weekends starting on Friday are the busiest days for my business. There is no transportation and therefore no customers. The street is closed and people are afraid to come to this street in case the explosion happens again,” he said.

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Huldar spends R500 on electricity every other day, but since the explosion he has had to pay a daily R750 petrol bill to keep some lights on.

Gasoline is expensive. As you can see, it’s dark in the back of the shop because I can’t stand the lights everywhere. I have to pay the rent and the water bill and we have to pay the people who work here too,” he said, adding that the shop would remain open because “every cent counts.”

Johannesburg City Power Lights out In the city center after the gas explosion that hit parts of Lilian Ngoyi Street on Wednesday. She said she would bring it back on Monday after the excess gas had been blown off.

The blast killed one person and injured 48, many of whom were hospitalised.

Unofficial merchant Nando Semango sells avocados on the street. When he spoke to News24 just before 09:00, he said he had not sold any of his shares, which was unheard of considering the usual traffic near a Bree taxi rank.

He said his company had borne the brunt of the blast since Thursday.

He described a normal Saturday to News24, saying, “Business is booming. People are walking up and down” downtown.

The police here control who enters and leaves this guarded area. It’s empty. We are only here because of hope, but there is nothing. It may take up to a month before everything is back to normal again.

On Simmonds Street, some businesses have closed. One of the few places to open is a wig shop designed by Maureen Macambo. From its salon, News24 was able to see several of the Johannesburg Metro Police (JMPD) officers patrolling on foot and in state vehicles.

Makambo sewed a wig as she spoke to News24 about her ordeal since the unexpected blast. She said she could not close the shop because she is the only breadwinner. Her work was supported by her unemployed husband and their five children.

She added, “I have to work for my children. I agree this is worse than the lockdown. When the lockdown was done, people called me to make house calls. Right now it’s quiet, no electricity. We don’t know for how long. I make the most money on the weekends, starting on Friday, and doing the count by Sunday.”

“It’s never been that empty. I own a wig shop, and women are born every day, so I shouldn’t be out of business. People are afraid to come this side.”

Joburg CBD

On Simmonds Street, some businesses have closed. One of the few places to open is a wig shop designed by Maureen Macambo.

News 24 Cebelihle Bhengu / News24

The Macambo Salon is located a short walk from FNB’s Bank City offices at Kerk and Simmonds Streets. The merchants who rent out the stalls in this area are closed. Makambo said this also killed her work.

Although she did not disclose the amount of monthly rent she paid, Makambo said it was very expensive because her stall was on a busy street in the inner city.

She told News24 that she was in her salon when the explosion occurred on Lilian Ngoyi Street. She said it was temporarily closed due to trauma.

“I hid inside and reopened after it was quiet again,” she said. “No other businesses have opened since then. They are afraid the explosion might happen again.”

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