South Africans are set to confront one of the toughest moments of our history. Fortunately, all indications are that we will do so united. As a country defined by various struggles, by all the people of this country, I do not make this comment lightly. Our nation, and the world, face an unprecedented threat, one that is oblivious to identity and demographics and enabled by the hyper-connectedness of our modern world. That menace is Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), a respiratory illness that spreads from person to person and likely to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 2 meters) and through touching surfaces that have been touched by infected people.
People spread the virus by coughing or sneezing into the air or their hands and then touching surfaces with those hands. Epidemiologists believe that it stays in the air for up to three hours and on most surfaces for up to four days. There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to take everyday preventive actions, like avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing your hands often. Ensuring that you sneeze or cough into tissues that you throw away or cloths that you wash as soon as possible is vital.
In South Africa, COVID-19 represents a grave and pressing danger to an economy and society already under strain. Furthermore, it threatens to deepen the impact of inequality in our country, a side effect we can ill afford. The New York Times recently pointed out that “In societies where the virus hits, it is deepening the consequences of inequality, pushing many of the burdens onto the losers of today’s polarised economies and labour markets. Research suggests that those in lower economic strata are likelier to catch the disease.”
It is within this context that President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the formation of the Solidarity Fund, (the Fund), as one of the measures to combat the anticipated impact of Covid19. The Fund has been set up to create a platform for all South Africans, from the public and private sectors, as well as the general public at large to contribute to one consolidated effort to assist those least able to weather the financial consequences of fighting against COVID-19. The Fund will be a rapid response vehicle through which pooled contributions can be deployed to fund four key initiatives; preventative and supporting measures to “flatten the curve” by lowering infection rates, detect and understand the magnitude of the infection problem, assist with the management of those people in hospital or medical care, and support those people whose lives are disrupted by Covid-19.
COVID-19 is oblivious to demographics and infects people regardless of wealth or colour, threatening all our economic livelihoods, but more especially those of the poor and the working classes. In South Africa, a significant portion of our more impoverished population live with chronic, underlying conditions, such as tuberculosis and diabetes, and coronavirus threatens to compound these pre-existing health challenges. These are people likely to be at higher risk of severe symptoms, complications, and potentially death if infected by the coronavirus. They live in environments where social distancing is difficult, if not impossible. For them, the extra vigilance we all must take in terms of hygiene comes with difficult trade-offs. The most vulnerable members of our society also face the increased prospect of lost income, deepening poverty and hunger, as a consequence of measures we are initiating to fight the virus. They will pay a higher price for the steps we need to take to protect us all.
There are three million people who earn a living in our informal sector. These are communities that do not have savings and have limited security of income. This includes domestic workers, street vendors and waste pickers. The families of the three million workers reliant on the informal economy will already be running out money as we progress through the very early stages of the necessary lockdown intended to protect all of us.
It is clear that their current situation sees them unnable to effectively protect themselves and this is where we hope that the Fund can play a role in addressing some of these challenges, not just financial but through collaboration and collective action and innovation. The response from South Africans to the announcement of the Fund has been extraordinary. Though limited against the scale of the challenge we face, we have already begun receiving contributions and offers of assistance.
As the pandemic continues to evolve at a rapid rate, we are moving with urgency to establish the systems to ensure the most efficient and transparent allocation of resources is made available to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic for the most vulnerable members of society. While it will work closely with government and BUSA’s response teams, the Fund is separate from both the Government initiatives and organised Business Initiatives that are being driven by BUSA/ Business for South Africa. It will, however, provide a nimble and agile platform to augment government and business interventions.
COVID-19 is a reminder that we all have the same biology, that that we are all connected beyond identity and class. We are all human beings who ultimately share the same planet and all that it throws at us, be it COVID-19 or climate change and the degradation of our habitat. The virus is already disrupting our social and economic organisation, and there is a real chance that some of these changes could be permanent, in a world defined bynew models of work, economic and social organisation.
In this enormous threat lies an opportunity to redefine our present and our future, to build a genuinely inclusive society, and a (political-)economy defined by social solidarity and cooperation, not simply a Darwinian winner takes all survivalism. In the long run, this may be an opportunity for us to think more creatively about the different types of institutions that could enable us to allocate and distribute public resources and goods more effectively.
For the time being, as demonstrated by our President, this is a time for collaboration and consolidation. We hope that all South African’s will unite with us in this fight against the COVID-19 virus. The Solidarity Fund is a vehicle through which we can all contribute to a single effort that will enable our country to quickly and comprehensively deal with the challenges we are currently facing. Simunye.
Sasfin has contributed R1 million to The Solidarity Fund launched by President Ramaphosa on 23 March 2020. To make a donation to the Solidarity Fund, please use the following bank account details:
Bank: Standard Bank
Branch Name: Sandton City
Account Name: Solidarity Fund
Account No: 023070021
Account Type: Current account
Branch Code: 051001
SWIFT Code: SBZAZAJJ
*For all EFT payments, please include your Identity / Company Registration / Trust number, as applicable, to facilitate your Section 18A tax certificate preparation.
*Gloria is the Chairperson of the Solidarity Fund and is a non-Executive Director of Sasfin Holdings, Sasfin Wealth and Sasfin Asset Managers.