Defend Truth


Covid-19: To keep the economy alive, we must focus on small businesses


Richard Mukheibir is CEO of Cash Converters Southern Africa.

South Africa slipped into recession very recently, before being faced with the prospect of the Coronavirus. We have a responsibility to keep the economy alive. An economic shutdown would have disastrous effects on a country such as ours, beset with huge inequality, unemployment and poverty.

In times of crises, partisan interests need to be set aside. Point-scoring, finger-pointing or quitting is not an option. We need to pull together, draw on the very roots of our humanity to pull in the same direction and do everything we can to navigate the crisis.

As President Cyril Ramaphosa eloquently and poignantly told the nation, it is the responsibility of every citizen to contain and prevent the spread of the disease. Social distancing, cleansing and respiratory hygiene are not negotiable.

We have a good idea of how the virus is spread, and so the onus is on every one of us to change our habits and protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. This applies to our personal lives, our lives in transit and our work lives.

Already, businesses have staff that are practising social distancing, wearing gloves and self-isolating if they believe they have been at risk or display symptoms. Businesses of all persuasions have sought to make alcohol-based sanitiser available at various points while encouraging the regular and thorough washing of hands with soap and water.

These types of activities need to persist and be intensified. Dr Christoforos Anagnostopoulos, a senior lecturer at Imperial College London, explained: “It is hence clear that delaying this virus is now a public service. And delaying this virus is hard, but simple: try your best not to get it. You can achieve this by extreme measures of personal hygiene and moderate measures of social distancing. Wash your hands thoroughly. As if you’ve just chopped chilli peppers and you’re about to remove your contact lenses…”

It is the responsibility of all of us to keep the economy alive, especially the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector. SMEs provide many jobs and drive local communities. Small businesses are most at risk in the event of an economic catastrophe.

Franchises, such as Cash Converters, have a very strong and proven business model and institutional support, but thousands of other businesses don’t.

Many small businesses that operate on a store or cash model simply cannot afford the luxury of remote working. If the local petrol station’s staff is at home, for instance, the tanks are not going to be operated.

A single small business closing its doors, even if temporarily, will have disastrous social effects. For instance, how many small businesses can close their doors — and revenue streams — while servicing their operating expenses?

The knock-on effect is equally harrowing. Consider each job representing the food, shelter and education security of a number of people. Beyond this, with the diminished buying power that comes from being unemployed, every local business that benefited from that person previously is also affected and so the cycle continues.

The solution is obvious, but not easy. First, the country must control the spread of the disease and do everything in its power to prevent what has become a total lockdown in some countries. Our population must heed the advice already given. We must all practice preventative measures and all businesses must put every measure in place to protect their staff and customers.

Second, businesses themselves, staff and the media need to reiterate the importance of continuing to support the local economy. Spreading panic for panic’s sake will only harm every small business which has so much at stake.

It’s a balancing act for sure. We must make sure we drill home the need for preventative measures while simultaneously making sure that every citizen understands that every small business that implodes will lead to an exponentially negative effect on the economy — ironically not unlike the way the disease itself spreads.

South Africa is a resilient country. This new challenge will no doubt stretch us, but by our very nature we can weather the storm and come out stronger for it.

The key is going to be avoiding panic. By leading rationally, we can have a positive impact on those around us. By being aware of our surroundings and taking every possible step to prevent the spread of the disease, while simultaneously understanding that we must try to do business as far as pragmatically possible, we will save both ourselves and our economy. BM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted