This is an opportunity to 'engineer SA's economy'
CAPE TOWN - The covid-19 crisis is an opportunity for the government to “fundamentally engineer the economy” to grow faster than it was before the lockdown, business leaders said yesterday.
A number of business leaders spoke at an online function, hosted by the Centre for Development & Enterprise, about how they had reacted to the Covid-19 crisis.
Sanlam chief executive Ian Kirk said although the world would be fundamentally different after the crisis, the government and big business were ignoring factional interests in their focus to deal with the virus, were working well together and in a way they hadn’t before, and new opportunities would arise from this type of partnership in the future.
One of the ways in which the world would change was in digital transformation for businesses, he said.
Kirk said 87 percent of the more than 2 000 staff at Sanlam – a group of some 200 businesses operating in 44 countries – were working from home during the lockdown.
He said if anybody had asked him more than a month ago if it was possible that such a large number of employees could work from home, he would have said no.
Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) director Norman Mbizama said the group needed to get back into mining production as soon as possible so that it had the capacity to continue to contribute to the relief efforts against the virus.
He said every day without production represented a major financial loss for the group, which turns over more than R100 billion a year.
He said another short-term challenge was that nobody was sure when the global automotive market would restart, although plants in China had reopened. Platinum group metals are used in vehicle exhaust and emissions control components.
Mbizama said in many ways Amplats had been in a better position to deal with the crisis than many other businesses, because it already had the facilities and knowledge to deal with other illnesses such as tuberculosis and occupational diseases.
Nevertheless, additional steps to prevent employees getting Covid-19 were implemented. These included increasing medical facilities, providing masks, testing and other medical equipment, providing food parcels to communities near operations, an extensive awareness campaign and also helping nearby municipalities in the provision of water, he said.
Hosken Consolidated Investments chief executive Johnny Copelyn said the holding company controlled businesses with more than 25 000 employees – including in hotels and casinos that were closed because of the lockdown – while some operations, such as a television station and coal mine, were still operational.
The group also had property interests, and there was no way of knowing the outcome of rental collections for inner-city residents in the properties, who may or may not be able to pay their rents in the coming months.
Copelyn said some 12 000 employees had been forced to accept a third of their salaries this month due to closed operations such as in the leisure sector businesses, and if there was no form of subsidy from the government, they might be forced to pay no wages next month to staff who were not working.
Copelyn said business should consider a three-point strategy through the crisis. The first was to survive, the second was to play a positive role, and the third was to “keep an eye on the ball” and be awake to expansion opportunities after the crisis.
Tommy van Zyl, the chief executive of ZZ2 – South Africa’s biggest tomato grower and an exporter of a range of other agricultural products, such as avocados, apples and pears – said the firm had to systematically introduce social distance, sanitising procedures and protective clothing measures to the group’s more 10 000 mainly rural employees in a number of provinces.
He said even though all the “value channels” of food production were functioning well, the lockdown had introduced a “profound shift” in the demand for food.
There was much less demand for specialist food products, while the demand for basic food products had strengthened materially. He said from the group’s business operations point of view, however, it was “business as usual” locally, and in exports.
Van Zyl said his main concern was the potential impact and the prevention of a localised outbreak of Covid-19, which could affect aspects of the group’s agricultural production.