When a young Johannesburg woman posted a message on Facebook offering to help clean up looted stores, she had no idea that her act of kindness would spark a movement that would gather tens of thousands of volunteers within a few days.
Emelda Masango, 25, of Crown Mines, said she was at home over the weekend after the retail company where she works as a receptionist elected to close for a while because of the looting. She said she felt sad about the violence and lawlessness taking place around her and wanted to reach out and “put a smile on the faces” of affected business owners.
So, on Monday morning she posted the following message on the “I Know a Guy” Facebook page: “Anyone who needs help to clean up after the looting in their business, I volunteer.”
To her surprise and delight, her message was shared nearly 1 000 times within 24 hours and by the time I spoke to her on Wednesday afternoon, more than 28 000 people has joined the “Rebuild SA — Volunteers Group” she started on Facebook together with several other volunteers. They also started a Whatsapp group that rapidly became full.
Emelda, who said her Christian faith played a part in her reaching out, said: “I am very happy about it [the flood of people wanting to help] . I am feeling so much hope inside of me. And I feel like this is the New South Africa that I need — and which it was like before this. We just need to recover, I think and get back to where we were. This is how we reunite again.”
She said that, inspired by her example, a foundation in Soweto has already mobilised people and started cleaning looted malls.
Asked how she and her partners plan to mobilise their tens of thousands of volunteers, she said: “We are just busy for this week with administration so we can get everything into order. And from next week we will start the work.”
In addition to the many offers of hands-on support on the volunteer Facebook group, are offers of donations from people further afield in South Africa or outside of the country.
Emelda said that with all the support streaming in she wants to expand the help they offer beyond cleaning up looted premises to include professional emotional support for victims of the mayhem “who are damaged inside” as a result of the trauma.
Asked what her company has to say about her off-duty outreach, she said: “My boss is a kind person and he encouraged me and he is very proud of me.”