CORONAVIRUS

Mary Oppenheimer and daughters join Covid-19 battle

By Sasha Planting 1 April 2020

Different donors have different visions for how their funds should be administered. The EFF has squealed its disapproval.

Mary Oppenheimer, the daughter of the late Harry Oppenheimer, and her two daughters have donated R1-billion to the Solidarity Fund, set up to support the battle against Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Their initiative follows contributions from technology firm Naspers for R1.5-billion, the Motsepe Foundation, along with associated companies Sanlam, African Rainbow Capital and African Rainbow Minerals for R1-billion, as well as the Rupert (in association with Remgro) and Oppenheimer families who each pledged R1-billion ahead of the lockdown.

“This unprecedented situation is placing strain on all our lives – but especially on our vulnerable communities, South Africans who struggle even in normal times to meet the basic needs of their families, to buy food and pay for medical and other necessities,” said Mary Oppenheimer in a statement.

“My daughters [Victoria Freudenheim, Rebecca Oppenheimer, Jessica Jell and Rachel Diamond] and I have thought long and hard about where we could make the greatest difference in this fight and have decided it is to support the humanitarian needs of everyone living in South Africa. So, we think that it is the Solidarity Fund which is most aligned to our concerns about basic needs, food, medicine, general care and gender abuse,” she said.

Naspers has also chosen to support the Solidarity Fund, an independent initiative that is providing funds and other forms of support to help stem the tide of Covid-19.

The group will contribute R500-million to the fund. In addition, Naspers will buy R1-billion worth of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies in China – in partnership with the Chinese government and Tencent – to support South Africa’s health workers and fly it to South Africa as soon as possible.

The Motsepe consortium has a more multi-pronged, but similarly humanitarian approach. It will make several hundred million available for the purchase of sanitisers, disinfectants, and personal protective equipment and is in discussions with stakeholders in this regard. 

It will also support communities in their efforts to improve access to water and sanitation and in the medium term will build additional classrooms, computer centres and laboratories across the country to help reduce overcrowding in classrooms. 

The Oppenheimers and Ruperts, on the other hand, will focus on providing support to small and medium-sized businesses, initiatives that are intended to continue in perpetuity.

Business Partners, which has provided financial support to SMEs over the last 38 years, will administer the R1-billion fund on behalf of Remgro and the Rupert family.

The trust will be ring-fenced and will be used to provide soft loans and grants to businesses of various types and sizes to help them to stay afloat during and after the period of quarantine.

The loan will be interest-free for 12 months with no repayment obligations during this period, and will become repayable after 12 months, and incur interest at the prime rate.

Meanwhile, Jonathan and Nicky Oppenheimer have launched the South African Future Trust, which is open to other funders, to provide payroll support to companies with a turnover of less than R25-million. This funding will be administered by Nedbank, Standard Bank, Absa and FNB.

That the funding from the Oppenheimer and Ruperts is to be used to provide soft loans rather than outright donations has roused the ire of the EFF, which accused Rupert in particular of earning a profit off the SMEs that it supports. The EFF insisted that any funds contributed to the Covid-19 relief effort should be administered via a central government-controlled fund.

Johann Rupert intends to “set up a sophisticated loan shark scheme that will indebt SMMEs and ensure he secures long term profits from a national disaster”, said the EFF in a statement. “… He has set up a fund that he claims will help sustain the small and medium business during the 21-day lockdown…. But which will increase its revenue during this crisis as a result of the massacre on the informal retail sector, [and] must be rejected with the contempt it deserves.”

However, in a statement, Business Partners noted that it will not be profiting from the funding it will be administering on behalf of Remgro and the Ruperts and will not charge any fees on the services it performs.  

“The initiative is based on research, Business Partners’ experience, public feedback and consultations over the past two weeks to inform the most prudent and effective format of providing financial aid and assistance to SMEs,” the company said.

In addition, Remgro, the Ruperts and the Oppenheimers are not looking for a return of the R1-billion grant at the end of the crisis. Instead, the funds will remain as seed capital in their respective funds to support SMEs into the future.

“The objective is to administer the donation in a way that will retain capital in the trust after the Covid-19 Challenge,” Business Partners said. This capital will be available to assist SMEs when new challenges are confronted in the future. The repayment of the loan portion is an appeal to the beneficiaries of the initiative to “pay it forward” and allow the continuing support of SMEs into the future. BM

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