ONE BAG AT A TIME
YOU South Africa|5 August 2021
Emelda Masango is the driving force behind Rebuild SA. She tells us why she got involved with cleaning up the damage caused by looters
ROBYN LUCAS

TWILL go down in history as one of the darkest periods in South African history and the country will count the cost of the frenzied looting and largescale destruction for years to come.

Yet SA is already rising out of the ashes and people are coming together to sweep away the horror and help rebuild a nation.

And while there have been many heroes emerging in the wake of the unrest, one young woman has quietly been making waves, armed with a cellphone in one hand and a black plastic bag in the other.

Emelda Masango (25), from Crown Mines in Johannesburg, is the driving force behind the Rebuild SA group – an initiative where people give up their time to clean and rebuild shops, malls and streets affected by the looting.

“It’s important to build up the businesses so that people can get employed again,” Emelda says, speaking to YOU on her way to her next clean-up operation at Diepkloof Square.

Life has become hectic for her– what started with one woman volunteering on social media to help has now snowballed into a 70 000-strong network of volunteers across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Along with co-founders Natalie Church and Mbali Ndhlovu, Emelda and the Rebuild SA team has – with the help of a private company – managed to fly food to KZN, fixed up stores in shopping centres and malls across Gauteng and KZN and arranged counselling sessions for distraught business owners and security personnel.

The government estimates the looting has set back the national economy by R50 billion, with more than 40 000 businesses and buildings looted, burnt or vandalised.

Emelda has heard many heartbreaking stories of people who have lost their livelihoods because of the unrest and looting. “Some business owners are so traumatised they can’t even speak to us,” she says.

“Some are sponsoring us and they try to be strong, but you can see they are breaking.”

She and her team are doing all they can to help. So far they’ve managed to clean, paint and get countless businesses and stores back on their feet.

For Emelda, it’s bittersweet.

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