#CorporateKindness: state, corporates & civil society galvanized into unprecedented collaboration by Covid-19 crisis

The massive mobilization of support for the most vulnerable people in our society is a reminder that the key to successful resolution of our biggest challenges lies not with government or business or civil society, but with powerful collaboration between all three.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s R500 billion package to address the crippling impact of the lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of Covid-19 will rely for its success on the support and cooperation of all sectors of society. Before the announcement of the package, numerous collaborative initiatives had already been launched by business and civil society, often with support or input from government, to tackle the economic fall-out of the virus and to bolster the capacity of the health sector.

The action that is being taken in relation to Covid-19 also provides a fascinating glimpse of what the private sector could be capable of doing to reduce inequality in South Africa.

Private banks, employers and grocery retailers will have a key role to play in ensuring that the funds aimed at alleviating the plight of the most vulnerable – in particular increased social grants actually reach them, and do so fast.

Private banks will also have a key role to play in assessing the most viable candidates for the single largest portion of the package announced by the president on 21 April, the R200bn loan guarantee scheme. The scheme will significantly ease the banks’ concerns about increases in non-performing loans, and if managed astutely could result in much of the R200 billion not being required.

Collaborative initiatives

President Ramaphosa is relying significantly on the Solidarity Fund to help address the growing hunger crisis in the country. The Fund is a public benefit organisation jointly established by the public and private sectors, and launched by President Ramaphosa before the lockdown. It is dependent on donations from individuals and companies – other than the R150 million of seed capital provided by the state. It works with government, but is independent of it.

The Fund is privately managed and individuals and companies can deduct any contributions from their taxable income. The biggest donations so far have been made by Mary Oppenheimer, daughter of mining magnate Harry Oppenheimer, and her daughters, and by Naspers. But many other companies and “thousands of ordinary South Africans” have also contributed. The Fund is administered by Old Mutual at no charge and Imperial Logistics provides distribution services pro bono.

Within days of its launch the Fund had over R2 billion to spend on personal protective equipment, ventilators, testing equipment and humanitarian initiatives. It has also started delivering food parcels to more than 250 000 households across the country, in conjunction with the Department of Social Development and non-profit organisations.

One of the most interesting collaborative initiatives, even if small in scope, is that developed by paper and plastics packaging group Mpact, public benefit organisation Fibre Circle and the Department of the Environment, Forestry & Fisheries. The initiative is designed to provide food vouchers to almost 4 000 waste reclaimers to cushion them from the lockdown hardships. The waste-pickers will receive electronic food vouchers via their cellphones. Recipients can reclaim the vouchers at food retailers Shoprite, Pick n Pay and Checkers as well as Dis-Chem and Clicks for essential items. If successful this could be replicated on a much broader basis.

Another impressive initiative has come from the textile industry. An agreement between employers’ associations, the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union and government is designed to ensure that the industry’s 80 000 workers are guaranteed to receive full pay for 6 weeks during and after the lockdown period. Payment will be made up “of workers’ UIF monies and employers funds” and “the clothing industry bargaining council will be the institution for the UIF distribution payments to workers through company payroll systems”.

Old Mutual has announced that it will provide R4 billion in life cover to about 430 000 healthcare workers. The cover will be freely accessible to registered healthcare workers on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic. Inevitably only a small fraction of the R4 billion will be called on, but the move reflects an appropriate sensitivity to the situation and will have provided comfort to the families of those on the frontline. Old Mutual’s “Covid-19 relief response” also includes the “provision of secure space adjacent to its Pinelands office in Cape Town for a Covid-19 testing centre, in partnership with Lancet Laboratories”.

Nedbank has pledged a R12 million donation in aid of hunger relief efforts, R5 million of which will be donated to the South African Red Cross Society. Nedbank is also working with the Department of Health to help mobilise, train and equip volunteers with the necessary information and hygiene products to drive awareness across the country, prioritising provinces with the highest infection rate.

The Motsepe Foundation and companies associated with it (including Sanlam and African Rainbow Capital) has announced that it will provide R1 billion to help with efforts to combat the coronavirus, particularly for acquiring critical health equipment.

Members of the Oppenheimer family have established the SA Future Trust to support small businesses. The R1 billion donation to this Trust by Nicky Oppenheimer was announced at the same time that Remgro chairman Johann Rupert announced that he was donating R1 billion to Business Partners to help small businesses and their employees deal with the fall-out from the lockdown. Applications for relief exceeded available capital within a few days of opening.

The JSE’s #Trade4Solidarity campaign – under which all fees earned from trades by the JSE and collaborating market participants on 15 and 16 April were donated – raised R34.4 million for the Solidarity Fund.

Pick n Pay has launched a ‘Feed the Nation’ relief fund to provide food and basic hygiene essentials to vulnerable South Africans during the lockdown period. The company is encouraging customers to make a R21 donation (which it says can provide someone with “a daily, nutritious meal for a week”), and to buy food hampers.

Discovery Health and Vodacom have collaborated to create a fund to pay doctors for 100 000 consultations that any South African at risk or exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms can access for free. Vodacom customers will be able to access the service without data or airtime while customers of other cellphone networks will only pay for data.

Anglo Gold Ashanti has said it would hand over two of its hospitals to the state to fight the spread of Covid-19. These hospitals are normally used for mineworkers for tuberculosis and an initial 2 000 beds have been identified that could be utilised for patients with mild symptoms who need isolation.

UCOOK, in partnership with FoodForward South Africa, the Philippi Economic Development Initiative and Ladles of Love has launched a fund to help feed 500 000 South Africans in crisis every month.

Siemens has partnered with Legae Larona, a fully black, female-owned enterprise based in Alexandra township, to manufacture and distribute 20 000 face masks to communities in need”.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of collaborative initiatives and contributions to the South African response to Covid-19. And, of course, not everyone has stepped up. But the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to rearrange the economic and corporate landscape in South Africa. This massive mobilization of support for the most vulnerable people in our society is a reminder that the successful resolution to our biggest challenges lies not with government or business or civil society, but with powerful collaboration between all three.

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