Outbreak a blow to business

Coffee Cafe in Centre Point. Picture: Facebook

The full force of Covid-19 has yet to be felt in the hospitals but many businesses are already headed for the mortuary.

Travel restrictions, a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people, shortened liquor trading and other tough measures the declaration of a state of disaster ushered in to fight the pandemic have proved the final straw for many small businesses, already reeling from load-shedding, a crippling drought and an economy weakened by rampant corruption and state capture.

And then, on Monday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nation-wide lockdown from midnight tomorrow, Thursday March 26 until midnight on Thurday April 16.

Sulette Bothma, the owner of Coffee Cafe in Centre Point, said things had been very quiet at the mall since President Cyril Ramaphosa first went on national TV on March 15 to announce the state of disaster.

“Already this isn’t quite a busy mall but things have gotten a lot worse. This mall has just opened so already, people aren’t programmed to coming here as most just drive to Paddocks. Now, we are losing the few customers that we have. If it isn’t load shedding, it’s coronavirus,” she said.

Ms Bothma added: “Now, what’s next? We just can’t catch a break, and we are a fairly new shop that just opened in July last year.”

As a small local business, they depended on foot traffic in the mall, she said.

Liezel Maree opened her new shop, Salty Sistas, on March 1, but she closed it following the president’s announcement to protect her staff, her family and customers.

“I was at my shop on Sunday, and I was disappointed to see lots of people at Eden on the Bay. Some of the restaurants are full and there are people on the beach. People are not taking this issue seriously. Since the schools are also closed, I know my staff have children so I paid them at least half of the salaries so that they can stay home and take care of their families.”

Ms Maree said she had poured her life savings into the shop. She fears losing everything if the crisis continues.

The Cape Chamber of Commerce says the measures announced by Mr Ramaphosa are based on recommendations by the World Health Organisation and are necessary to save as many lives as possible.

The chamber’s president, Geoff Jacobs, said Covid-19 could lead to new ways of doing business.

“In that sense, the situation is an ironic opportunity for forward-thinking companies. Small-to-medium enterprises may react more swiftly than large ones, and younger managers may see opportunities presented by digital technology sooner than those of an older generation. Above all, the behavioural changes demanded of us all for health reasons challenge long-held assumptions about offices, conferences, business travel and face-to-face networking.”

On Thursday March 19, the Department of Small Business Development said it would make funds available to help small businesses during the expected economic slowdown.

A deft relief fund would provide relief on existing debts and repayments, to assist the businesses during the state of disaster.

To be eligible for aid from the fund, applicants would have to show a direct link between Covid-19 and the damage to their businesses.

The fund would help affected small businesses acquire raw material, pay labour and other operational costs, the department said.

Ms Maree said she would be paying close attention to the state’s plans to help small businesses.

“Only we can stop this. People should have a look at what has happened in other countries and be responsible. Staying at home and only going out for essentials is the only way we can beat this,” she said.

Small businesses needing help, should register at www.smmesa.gov.za which was set to go live on Tuesday March 24.