A huge void occupies a space where a rooftop cooking competition was taking place at midday on the parking lot of Nairobi’s then glitzy Westgate Mall on September 21, 2013.
On that afternoon, those taking part in the competition—mostly schoolchildren — were among the first casualties of an Al-Shabaab terror attack that killed at least 67 people after a three-day siege.
This section of the upscale shopping mall eventually caved in during the rescue by security agencies.
It was a different scene on Saturday afternoon when the Sunday Nation was offered an exclusive tour of the mall ahead of its opening next weekend.
Rusty steel rods protruding from the walls of what used to be the parking lot act as the only reminders of the massacre that took place there.
Workers were mixing concrete in the basement to patch up the sections before the opening.
As this was happening, others were painting walls while inside more workers were rushing to bring in supplies to stores.
In a hall where Diamond Trust bank will have a branch, a supervisor was urging workers to make sure the fittings are right. In a Safaricom shop on the second floor, electricians were testing the lights.
Final test runs were also being carried out on the elevators as others watered the flower beds.
Airtel, Subway Restaurant, Artcaffe, Fed Ex, Barclays and Ashleys and others make up 50 per cent of previous clients and have all set up their shops according to a mall manager.
Signs have been put up every few feet warning shoppers not to leave luggage unattended. Motorists will be required to park their cars outside in the parking lot the mall shares with Nakumatt Ukay.
Giant retailer Nakumatt, the mall’s anchor client, has significantly increased its store occupancy space.
“Eventually when things have normalised the mall will be expanded to fill in this void by another four floors. For now it will remain empty. No vehicle will be allowed to access the mall,” said Nakumatt Westgate branch manager David Muturi.
He is one of those affected when the mall was attacked but has decided to go back when it reopens.
Mr Muturi, who helped in evacuating the building during the attack and was standing a few feet away when one of the shoppers was killed, said he is not afraid to return.
“I am not afraid. You can die anywhere, on your way home, on the streets. If you were to die from a terror attack it may find you anywhere even in social places,” he said.
He recalled that a diplomatic police officer who was among the first ones to respond was told to throw his pistol before being shot just a few feet away from the counter where Mr Muturi and other staff were standing.
He said that most of the people who died were those that thought the attackers were ordinary robbers and rushed to look for hiding places instead of searching for exits.
“When they came, a number of people who were outside the supermarket rushed in instead of looking for exit points. For over an hour we tried to get out as many as we could,” he recalled.
For the past two years he has worked in three different stores belonging to the company but decided to come back to his original work station.
“Eighty per cent of the staff that used to work here want to come back,” he adds.