“What can we do to help?” Kent and Lyndall Vanderyacht asked after they got over the initial shock of looting that had broken out in their area days before and their hearts went out to people in a nearby township left without food and hope.
The next morning — the Saturday after the Monday when the looting started — Lyndall prayed about their desire to help and then she asked Kent what he thought about the idea of restocking a looted spaza shop — just to help get their economy going again.
They just had one, or maybe two, shops in mind, said Kent. It was like their Hearts That Hope orphanage ministry in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal, he explained, where they care for 11 children in addition to their own four kids. “We know that God can do great big things. But for us we are happy with getting relational, getting in people’s lives.”
He said they thought that with donations of about R100 or R200 and gifts of groceries from friends and family they could help a shopkeeper or two to get back on their feet again.
So they found out it would cost about R7 500 to restock a typical spaza shop and with the help of Lyndall’s marketing-savvy brother they had a “Stock-A-Shop” web page up and running by that Saturday evening and they launched the campaign on the Sunday morning.
“By Sunday night we had a hundred grand in our bank to stock shops. And it was like, okay, I guess we’re doing this and let’s just keep going until it stops,” he said.
When I spoke to Kent earlier this week he said donations to the campaign had reached R660 000. They had restocked 26 shops in the relatively small ILembe District township nearest to them. They had also fixed and secured many of the shops which had also been vandalised.
Kent said he and two local men who were assisting him were now in the next nearest township, speaking to shop owners and assessing their needs. He estimated they would be able to assist another 60 or 70 shops. He said it was amazing how people had come on board with the campaign to help shopkeepers start again. As long as donations kept coming in they would continue with the project, he said.
Kent estimated that in the 12km stretch between Ballito and Stanger, about 150 shops were looted. In the bigger townships closer to Durban he believes thousands of small shopkeepers lost their livelihoods through the looting.
Reflecting on their recent experience, Kent, who is a missionary from the United States, said he and Lyndall were shocked on the first Monday of the looting as they watched television footage of businesses being attacked with no police in sight. As they wondered whether looting which was happening just across the freeway would spread to their suburb they considered whether they should be thinking of moving to the US. He said he had been in Lebanon when war broke out but what he saw on TV that was happening in KZN was much more scary than that war.
Subsequently, local security companies protected Ballito and businesses there were not looted. On the Thursday of that week, without telling his wife, Kent prayed for God to protect him and rode his scooter into the township across the freeway and started speaking to people. Despite the racial tension that had been building over the past few days he said ordinary people in the township who were not involved in the looting welcomed him. He visited again on the Friday and that night he and Lyndall began asking the Lord how they could help.
Kent said one of the amazing things that has happened through the Stock-A-Shop campaign is that he has ended up working with a lot of Muslim shopkeepers. He said he had always wanted to go to the Middle East as a missionary. “And I said: ‘Wow God, it’s just like you. Now I’m in South Africa and you brought the Middle East to me and I’m getting to pray with these guys.'”
He said one of the Muslim people they were helping said: “God gave you Christians Jesus as a gift, so that you can give this gift to us.”
He said that shopkeepers they have helped have said their support has given them hope and a reason to start again. He said all of the shops in the first township they helped are up and running again and there was an improved atmosphere in the area.
When I spoke to him they had just been to the next township and found that no shops were open and there was great animosity between shopkeepers and the people who had looted their businesses. He said they have met with community leaders and various role players and want to help heal relations and remind people “you are all in this together”,
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