A Zimbabwean mother of five has been set alight by store workers in South Africa after she was caught stealing a packet of meat. She said she stole because she was desperate to feed her hungry children.

She was doused with methylated spirits by employees at a SuperSpar and had to be treated for burns in hospital.

Three people were arrested following the incident and are due back in court in January 2021. The Spar Group said the store is independently owned. The company has, however, apologised.

Mavis* spoke to GroundUp on condition that her identity be withheld. She said she sustained burn wounds on her waist, arm, leg and vagina.

She said she arrived in Musina on 2 November 2020 in search of work. “I was accommodated at a relative’s place but the relative was visiting her husband working in Pretoria  Out of desperation I walked to Spar and stole a packet of meat worth R25. I walked out without anyone noticing me until some Spar workers approached me, requesting to know what I had bought. I never denied anything. I showed them the meat,

She said though she explained her situation and apologised but the employees poured spirits onto her skirt and set it alight. “I asked for forgiveness but all fell on deaf ears. Some kicked me. I told them if they wanted to kill me then they should not make me suffer that way.

“I am not denying that I did the wrong thing, but were these workers supposed to give me such a treatment? They have made mine and children’s lives even worse. At the moment I can’t even sit down and I have to sleep on one side.” I am not sure when I will recover so I can work for my children. The pain is too much,” said Mavis.