Following a heart-wrenching nation address by Pres Ramaphosa on 23 March, the country will go into lockdown for three weeks. This comes at a time where the South African government needs to mitigate any risk of COVID-19 reaching high-risk populations, but a complete economic standstill will have adverse effects on small businesses.
Which is why the President announced that a Debt Relief Fund has been established to help alleviate the harsh economic impact we’ll see after everyone has been sent to their rooms. Following Thursday 26 March, only essential services and businesses will remain open, and not everyone has the luxury of working from home.
The relief fund will help all small, micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs), who can apply for relief on existing debts and payments online. To qualify, applicants are required to detail the impact, or potential impact, of the virus on their business. We’re guessing the closure of a small business is impact enough — especially if owners have employees to care for.
Applications can be done online
The Department of Small Business Development is managing the fund, and small business owners can head to its website to apply for any financial aid. “The Debt Relief Fund is aimed at providing relief on existing debts and repayments, to assist SMMEs during the period of the COVID-19 State of Disaster, “ the Department explains.
Organisations can apply by heading to the SMME South Africa portal at www.smmesa.gov.za, which will be used to create a database. It is already online, but the absolute inundation has caused the server to crash a few times. The smart IT guys are working to keep the page up and running.
Please note that the website https://t.co/OGk0DMfduO is currently experiencing technical difficulties, and our IT team is working on it. As soon as it’s resolved and back up we’ll let you know.
We apologize for this inconvenience.
— Dept. of Small Business Development (@DSBD_SA) March 24, 2020
This just serves to show that small businesses are really feeling the effects of clients going into self-isolation, and the looming national lockdown already. Companies that operate on a month-to-month basis will be hit hardest during this time. And it’s good to know our government has set these fall-backs in place.
Don’t fall for fake news
Following the President’s announcement late on Monday, an alleged government document started circulating on social media, listing the necessary criteria for obtaining an SMME relief fund grant.
The image clearly states that, in order to obtain a grant, a business needs to prove that they are 51% black-owned. Although the application does require businesses to detail the race and gender of shareholders and employees, this is not the case.
@DSBD_SA Good day. This document is being widely circulated on social media platforms. Please confirm whether these are indeed the qualifying criteria for Government assistance for small businesses during the current Covid-19 crises? pic.twitter.com/C0GqQdpBFY
— rozellebreedt (@RozelleBreedt) March 24, 2020
When prompted about this document on Twitter, the Department of Small Business Development explained that it was a draft document that was not intended for public distribution. “Please note that this was a draft document of more than a week ago in the department and was still under revision. It was not meant to be shared with the public,” the tweet reads.
It’s a strange time for everyone, and although many people and businesses will suffer losses, it is more important to keep the population safe from a virus we know very little about. Stay safe out there, kids.