One year on

One year on

It’s been a year since the initial lockdown got underway and I truly thought that Covid-19 would be an unpleasant memory by now. I was wrong, but we do seem to be moving towards a place from where things can be rebuilt. We just need to stand together.

I was surprised to receive not one, but two invites to “in-person” gatherings during April. One of these was the official launch of FAR UVC Africa and the country’s newest range of human-safe filtered far-UVC light sanitising products – so it made sense. (You can read more on this in our hints and tips section on page 28.)

The other was a conference on a topic for our sister publication, FOCUS on Transport and Logistics. This one boggled my mind a bit and my first thought was, “How can they do that?” But then I reassured myself that there are numerous ways that people can gather and interact in a safe and healthy manner. And I believe that we do have to return to in-person interactions …

As Professor Andrew Sharman so eloquently states in his column: “We thrive on being part of a tribe! Many organisations are now working out how to gather smaller groups of people together while respecting physical-distance requirements, often using the tenets of Nudge Theory with, for example, alternate seats removed from around tables, or floor markings to remind people.” (Read the riveting Q&A on page 13.)

The vaccine could be an additional solution, as well, as pointed out on page 38. The article explores the tricky question of whether it should be mandatory for employees to get vaccinated …

But, vaccine or no, businesses are struggling to keep afloat. New research from the registered non-profit company BeyondCOVID’s Business Survey paints a bleak picture for the future of South Africa’s small business sector one year after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country.

Specialist management consultancy Redflank conducted the BeyondCOVID Business Survey between July 2020 to March 2021, surveying nearly 4 500 companies, more than half of which were micro to small businesses.

A snapshot of the findings include:
• 21% of businesses polled are closed, although 64% of them indicated they do expect to reopen;
• 54% of businesses said they were currently operating below capacity;
• 41% of businesses are planning to retrench staff over the next six months. Construction, accommodation and food, manufacturing, and information and communications technology (ICT) are worst impacted, with the public sector, healthcare and financial services least impacted; and
• Businesses expect recovery to pre-Covid-19 levels to take six months longer now (3,5 years) compared to their projection of three years at the onset of the pandemic.

“In South Africa, the small business sector is a critical part of the national economy, with the government’s National Development Plan 2030 looking to SMMEs as a major source of employment and stimulator of growth, reducing unemployment against a backdrop of a formal sector that continues shedding jobs,” says Fay Mukaddam, chairperson of BeyondCOVID.

The results of the survey point to a vastly different reality, unfortunately. Lings Naidoo, director at Redflank and BeyondCOVID co-founder, says: “SMME respondents indicated that they plan to retrench an average 13% of their staff – or 1,2 million people – in the next six months, against a 5% figure for corporates. At face value, businesses appeared to be in a slightly better position this year, but closer examination showed that this applies only to corporates. The situation is worsening for SMMEs.”

Mukaddam adds that the BeyondCOVID Business Survey highlighted the challenges facing business across sectors, prompting BeyondCOVID to fine-tune its focus to help revive the hard-hit SMME sector as a way to stimulate job creation and contribute to the country’s overall recovery.

“Initially, we were looking at the entire market and ways in which we could facilitate solutions. But we now want to be part of the solution, spurring job growth by opening up access to funding, supply chains and markets,” she says.

It’s been a year, and Covid will probably stick around for some time, but we will get through this – as long as we stick together and help where we can.

Published by

Jaco de Klerk

JACO DE KLERK is editor of SHEQ MANAGEMENT and assistant editor of its sister publication FOCUS on Transport and Logistics. It’s nearly a decade later, and he is still as passionate about all things SHEQ-related since his first column, Sound Off, which he wrote for this magazine as well.
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