We are all in this together

Geoff Jacobs, Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry

When the state of disaster was declared by President Ramaphosa there was a national upsurge of fellow-feeling. A desire to help others was rampant, uplifting to see and to experience.

We were told of vast sums of money flowing towards helping the less fortunate and the worst affected by the economic effects of the coronavirus – small businesses.

A week into the crisis, with much more hardship predicted, that burst of fellow-feeling that “we are all in this together” appears to be fading.

At one extreme it has become, “I’m all right Jack. Pull up the ladder”. At the other, the human impulse to help others is being smothered in a bureaucratic blanket. Nowhere has this flip side of charity become clearer than in the small business sector.

Some landlords have flatly refused to share some of the economic burden by insisting on full rents, no matter what the circumstances of their tenants.

Banks have offered help with repayment holidays. but refused to suspend accruing interest as well, in effect offering a deepening debt trap, ensuring a business collapses later rather than sooner.

Public servants have imposed rules and regulations that make it all but impossible to access the aid offered to small businesses, virtually ensuring it will not arrive before the crisis ends.

There are few signs of attempts to cut the red tape strangling the process.

Most disappointing of all is that the once national spirit of self- sacrifice has completely bypassed the upper layers of our vast civil service at national and City level. These newly-minted millionaire recipients of taxpayers’ money forget that they were a prime factor in Moody’s decision to downgrade South African government bonds to junk.

In short, it has been left to non-governmental organisations to show how to distribute aid as fast as possible to those who need it. In doing so they have shone a bright light on the over-manned, inefficient, lumbering institutions of our government at all levels.