When the COVID-19 outbreak – and the subsequent national lockdown – hit, many small and medium businesses in South Africa were caught unprepared, writes Pieter Bensch, Executive Vice President, Africa & Middle East: Sage.

Few had a contingency plan in place to deal with such an emergency, and few knew how to enable and engage an instantly remote workforce, while still protecting their information and keeping the business functioning properly. Although it may keep managers awake at night, there is much that businesses can do now to prepare for operational resilience.

Navigating red tape and paperwork

Small and medium businesses are taking the brunt of the lockdown. Although the government has announced measures to support businesses, these come with exclusive conditions. For example, self-employed individuals, informal traders, and businesses not owned by South Africans do not qualify for government’s SMME debt relief funding.

Although President Cyril Ramaphosa announced recently that the government was urgently developing additional measures to provide relief to self-employed individuals and informal businesses, we don’t yet know what these measures are, or how accessible they’ll be. Those that do qualify for debt relief have to submit mountains of paperwork and get through heaps of red tape to apply for debt relief and Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits.

The COVID-19 situation is half of a double blow delivered to businesses. The other half came with the recent news that ratings agencies Moody’s and Fitch have downgraded South Africa to sub-investment grade. Businesses have never had to operate in such uncertain times. Never has it been evident that when change happens, it happens quickly, unexpectedly and with much disruption.

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