Alex radio station trashed and looted

Members of the SANDF guarding a shopping centre in Alexandra. All photos by Ramatamo Sehoai

Small businesses have been decimated and food and energy security is in peril as civil unrest and looting continues in KZN and Gauteng.

Recent destruction of businesses and mass looting on a grand scale took a very nasty turn when Alex FM in Alexandra was not spared. Looters or scavengers as they were to be known by the ire of many people could not leave anything behind, from medical supplies, ATMs and building materials, things that one would imagine are a far cry from basics such as food and clothing. No one thought Alex FM by virtue of its relevance and the standing in the community would be a target of this crowd.

This is the community radio that for 27 years was the hub and the trailblazer of news and entertainment for the community of Alexandra township in the north of Johannesburg. The station was broken into on the night of the 12th of July 2021 after three days of unabated looting and vandalism of shops by people masquerading as supporters of former president Jacob Zuma and opposing his imprisonment.

They trashed and looted studio equipment, sound systems and computers worth about R5-million.

This widespread unrest, that is also in defiance of lockdown rules, is mostly affecting the cities of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng where an untold trail of destruction has laid businesses and properties to waste. Reacting to this news, some loyal listeners of the station such as Thabo Mopasi could not hesitate to rule out some conspiracy theories as they believe the station was beginning to hit a nerve on sensitive matters.

“The looting of Alex FM 89.1 and the ongoing community debate about the Public Protector and the Human Rights Commission’s report on the maladministration of the Alexandra Renewal Project should not exonerate the Alex Mafia in this undertaking to keep Alexandra in the dark,” he says.

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The station manager, Takalane Nemangowe, appealed to the community to help in locating the equipment and emphasised that they are working around the clock together with law enforcement agencies and private security to bring the culprits to book. “This is the saddest day in the history of the station. Alex FM is a community asset, is the voice of the voiceless but sadly today we are silent,” he says and adds that efforts are underway to ensure that the station gets back on-air and the work of 40 staff members is restored.

A statement by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) mentioned Alex FM, Ntokozo FM, Mams FM and Westside FM as community radio stations that have been reported as damaged or looted, “to name but a few”.

Alex FM station manager, Takalane Nemangowe, appealed to the community to help in locating the equipment that was looted.

Meanwhile, other businesses operating in the precinct of the Pan Africa Mall which were severely affected by these riots says the aftermath will be felt for a very long time. Many don’t anticipate coming back looking at the extent of the damage.

Tshepo Ndlovu, a partner in one of the big retail franchises which estimates its cost of damage to be around R7-million, says more than anything else his heart bleeds for the 120 staff he employs that come from the township. He says on average each of them feed about four family members. Today, those employees will be without jobs. “What happened today has revealed our darkest side. It’s says a lot about us as the black nation. I cannot believe that the community that I have served through various acts of charities and employed local people failed to protect this store. I’m extremely disappointed,” he says.

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Sergio Tuane, a husband and a father says his butchery outlet on which his livelihood, and that of 22 others, depends was also looted and emptied of stock and furniture. He says this was not the first time. His butchery, situated at a busy corner in the mall, is the first one to be attacked every time there are protests. “We are crossing our fingers that the boss will call us back,” he says.

Some members of the community continued to loot shops up until yesterday afternoon.

Spaza owners who are mostly foreign nationals were not seen operating on those days as they fled with their stock to nearby places of safety. Though some spazas were attacked, this was not widespread as in previous violent protests. “Some can blame it on poverty, but there is no law that justifies crime based on poverty,” says William Volmink, a landlord to some of the shopkeepers.

Members of the SANDF arrived late in the day after most shops were looted.

Later in the day, the police minister and the army arrived. He promised there will be justice and order and no further damage will be committed, but people were only convinced this is too little too late.

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