THE MULTI-MILLION dollar Shoprite complex at Katima Mulilo burned down to ashes yesterday morning.
The fire reportedly started at around 03h00, but due to a shortage of water in town, firefighters only arrived at 06h00 to contain the fire which had already caused major damage.
Other shops like Clicks, Pep and Hungry Lion that are also housed in the complex, were also engulfed by the fire.
Zambezi police regional crime investigations coordinator Evans Simasiku said they received a report of fire at the complex early and went to the scene.
"Firefighters found it difficult to extinguish the fire because they did not have enough water in their tenders and the fire was spreading fast. They had to get water from the river as there was none in town. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze.
"I can, however, not say the same about the goods in these shops because they were reduced to ashes," he said.
Simasiku added the value of the goods destroyed in the fire could not be determined but estimated that it could be in the millions.
"The cause of the fire is still unknown, as investigations are still at preliminary stage. However, we assure the public that if it is arson, the culprit will be brought to justice. We also urge the public to remain calm as we investigate this," he said.
Shoprite Katima Mulilo branch manager Thabo Hoaeb said it was still too early to assess the loss the retailer suffered because they were not allowed into the shop.
The town has had water disconnected for the past two days because of an unpaid NamWater bill. However on Wednesday the chief executive officer of the town gave the assurance that supplies would be restored that afternoon after council had paid N$300 000.
Water supplies were restored on Wednesday afternoon but taps ran dry again yesterday morning, ironically at the time the shopping complex caught fire.
Hundreds of residents flocked to witness the complex burn down and some called out the retailer for the ill-treatment of their employees.
"They were treating people badly and not wanting to hire locals. This is a result of our people's pain. Shoprite got what they deserve," said John Mutelo.
Another resident, Juliet Siambango, said it is unfortunate that other shops were also affected but she felt no sympathy towards Shoprite.