Lockdown hits businesses

Owners fear permanent closures if the lockdown is extended.

Non-essential businesses are facing hard times, and many fear further extensions of the lockdown will spell their end.

On Thursday April 9, President Cyril Ramaphosa extended the national lockdown by another two weeks, to the end of April.

He said: “We all want the economy to come back to life, we want people to return to work, we want our children to go back to school, and we all want to be able to move freely again. But our immediate priority must remain to slow down the spread of the virus and to prevent a massive loss of life. We must do this while preventing our economy from collapsing and saving our people from hunger.”

Grassy Park shop owner Ismail Sulaiman said his business would not survive if the lockdown were extended for a third time, into May. He can trade but is not turning a profit.

“We are open every day according to lockdown regulations, but we are not making as much money as we did before. We are also not allowed to sell cigarettes, and that’s where the bulk of our profits come from. We still have customers, but nothing compared to how it was before the lockdown.”

Customers bought bread and other small items, such as chips and sweets, but those were not enough to sustain the business, he said.

“I’ve been in business for about eight years now, and I have always been able to provide for my family even in months where I didn’t make target, but this time around, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay afloat unless there is serious intervention from government.”

Greg Kloots has owned a recycling business in 10th Avenue, Retreat since 2006. He employs 16 people and has been paying their salaries during lockdown, but he said the business – deemed non-essential – would battle to survive another extension.

“The business is not making any money but we understand that the lockdown is much needed, and we have to adhere to the regulations to safeguard both our staff and customers.”

Many of society’s most vulnerable relied on the business, he said.

“I’ve had so many people contact me to ask that we exchange goods for money because this is how they’ve been able to put food on the table, but at the moment these are the people who are hit the hardest.

“It is a very difficult situation and a disaster that’s causing a lot of hardships. Almost all businesses are finding it difficult, and we’re getting it from all sides because there have been attempted break-ins at my business, and I’ve heard of break-ins at other business premises.

“So we’re not only trying to keep afloat by the closing of the business but also trying to keep our businesses safe from criminals.

“I hope the lockdown ends soon and that we all recover from this pandemic.”

According to Patrick Khun, chairman of the Retreat Business Forum, small businesses are suffering the most.

“In Retreat, there are a lot of small businesses, such as salons, bakeries and car services. These businesses are closed, but our employees still look to us to provide for them. Unfortunately we are also struggling to make money so many owners are unable to help.”

Mr Khun, who owns Nortons Auto Service and Panelbeaters in 10th Avenue Retreat, said a post-lockdown recovery would be near impossible.

“This is going to be a big problem because it is extremely difficult circumstances. Many businesses are going to be permanently closed after this, which is sad because these people were the breadwinners in their family. Many now don’t have any means of income, and, to make matters worse, our businesses are being broken into.

“People are starving, and the UIF and business relief offered by government have been a problem. Some of the businesses have applied, but there has been no feedback or payouts, and there is so much red tape. Others don’t know how to apply so we, as the forum, have to assist where we can.

“As a country, we have gone through a lot, like apartheid, and we are already battling the socio-economic issues, and every day is a struggle, but this is another battle, and I don’t know how we are going to overcome this one, but I hope and pray we are able to recover.”

President Ramaphosa said the state would provide support to businesses in distress, workers facing loss of income, the self-employed and informal businesses.

To prevent job losses, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) had R40 billion to help employees unable to work and by Thursday (April 16) had paid out R356 million, he said.

However some shop owners the Southern Mail spoke to were sceptical about the relief fund.

“I have made the first steps to apply for the relief fund, but there hasn’t been much guidance on how it’s done, but I will apply,” said Mr Sulaiman.

Mr Kloots said he had applied for UIF relief for his staff and business relief and was awaiting the results.

President Ramaphosa said the Small Enterprise Finance Agency had approved a six-month postponement of loan repayments. Small-business debt relief and business-growth facilities were reviewing applications for R500 million in available aid. And the Reserve Bank had lowered interest rates and taken steps to inject liquidity into the economy.