Business as we know it was turned on its head with the outbreak of Covid-19. Particularly, the local economy was hugely impacted by the implementation of lockdown restrictions in South Africa as well as the far-reaching impact the closed borders had on trade and logistics globally. Exporters Eastern Cape member companies showed great resilience, adaptability, and creativity during a challenging year. Exporters EC’s Diamond members share how they overcame the challenges they faced in the past year:

  • The challenges that Eberspächer South Africa and Eberspächer Rosslyn faced were numerous over the past year but two stand out as being most challenging. Firstly, during the hard lockdown and subsequent gradual return to full production, the company had to find an amicable solution to ensure employees received a living wage while also being mindful of the fact that the companies were not generating income. Through active consultation with all stakeholders, Eberspächer was able to obtain a balance between moral obligation and business acumen. Secondly, they were severely challenged – and continue to experience this – with the impact that Covid-19 has had on global logistics. Shipping disruptions, the availability of airfreight alternatives and spiraling costs have stressed the businesses in an unprecedented manner. Good communication and close collaboration with all the relevant stakeholders (Transnet, shipping lines, freight forwarders, customers and suppliers) coupled with extraordinary efforts from employees have helped Eberspächer manage the situation to date, albeit at a cost.

 

  • It was important for Volkswagen Group SA to live up to its name of being a ‘People’s Company’ by partnering with other businesses and government to fight Covid-19 in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and save lives. The company learnt that solidarity was crucial during a crisis and this encouraged Volkswagen to initiate projects such as the opening of a field hospital, donation of the PPE for frontline health workers, revamp of the NHLS laboratory, donation of children’s masks and food parcels to local primary schools and disbursement of food security funds to local community-based organisations. It was also important for VWSA to ensure the wellbeing and health of their employees by introducing and practicing Covid-19 measures to keep the workplace safe. For that reason, VWSA introduced measures such as the installation of Covid-19 signage, sanitisation stations at all entrances, redesigning of workspaces for physical distancing, body temperature check at entrances and the preparation of VWSA’s Wellness Centre to provide comprehensive medical support to the employees who tested positive and were exposed to people who had tested positive for Covid-19 in line with the protocols as defined by the authorities.

 

  • SJM Flex SA, an exporter of flexible couplings to global locations, overcame one of their biggest hurdles by creating a safe environment for all employees in order to continue manufacturing parts to ensure continued supply to Europe and the USA. Under trying conditions, SJMSA did a risk analysis and then introduced stringent controls, which clearly was successful as they had minimal cases of Covid-infections at SJM during the full year 2020. They have continued with these controls and even improved some of them, to now have a zero-Covid infection rate for 2021 thus far. This required a high level of commitment both from management and employees alike. Unfortunately, SJM can only take care of its employees at the workplace, but the real threat is when they are out in the community. The company praises its employees for taking precautions away from the workplace to sustain their (and their families’) health by abiding by the strict protocols of the country. SJM is proud to report that they did not lose any customers during Covid-19, which they attribute to the 100% commitment from the SJM employees.

 

  • For Oracle Media as early as March 2020 – and as the Coronavirus situation unfolded – the company realised they had to minimise the impact of potential scenarios and, with no sector being immune to the impact of the pandemic, a healthy cash flow was needed to survive. Much like many other SMEs in South Africa, Oracle Media decided to work with suppliers and came to payment agreements which helped them maintain a steady cash flow. Of course, their clients were in the same position and Oracle Media had to accommodate them similarly. They focused on customer-specific payment performances and ensured the basics were put in place, such as timely and accurate invoicing to alleviate costly delays in receiving payment.

 

  • The biggest hurdle for the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber last year was business continuity and relevance. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Business Chamber had to find ways to operate in a rapidly accelerating digital economy and, fundamentally, they had to reimagine their service offering as a member-driven organisation, whose members rely on the strength of its network/connections to operate successfully. This was attained with great success. To this end, they held over 45 webinars on business sustainability beyond the pandemic and shared useful information regarding Covid-19 in the workplace.

 

  • For the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) as a service organisation – an agency of national government –their biggest hurdle was achieving continued support to small enterprises whilst avoiding Covid-19 infection of clients and staff members. The usage of technology proved crucial to achieve this.

 

  • The hurdles faced by Propella Business Incubator were small in comparison to those experienced by many other industry sectors. While others were shrinking, Propella’s team grew, and they even opened a new incubator mid-lockdown. Along with the rest of the world Propella converted their operations online and took their programme delivery virtual via Zoom. This meant supplying founders with data and adapting content to be presentable and effective online, along with employing tactics to keep the founders motivated, accountable and on track with outcomes required. The secret to the smooth transition was the strong Propella team culture, despite their own high levels of anxiety and uncertainty in the early days of the pandemic, the team banded together and adapted to working remotely. Post those early months, the agility of the team was in action again when asked to return to the office on alternate days, then go remote again before coming back full time. Their commitment to working together and achieving the outcomes required, are commendable.

 

  • Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) such as the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) are meant to step up in times of crises and play a counter cyclical role in supporting the economy. IDC has faced significant headwinds arising from Covid-19, the crisis stopped numerous projects and transactions from producing and generating revenue and only incurring overheads therefore postponing repayments. IDC devised numerous interventions to alleviate the economic impact namely an essential supplies intervention, a distress fund, and a small business industrial distress fund. Capital was provided to manufacture hand sanitisers, surgical masks, and protective gear. On a regional IDC basis, IDC had to adapt and thrive in an electronic team meetings environment and build a coherent team with a focus on providing that counter cyclical role at a local level. A highlight was that the IDC Eastern Cape was the first region to have a deal approved and disbursed under the Covid-19 environment.

As a member based organisation, Exporters Eastern Cape we were able to make use of technology to host several online events, including our AGM and Exporter of the Year Awards Evening which our members found informative, practical and entertaining.

We have strived as an organisation to continue to provide a platform for collaboration for our members and other role players in the export industry. A big thank you to all our active members, sponsors and alliance partners over the last year.

Volkswagen Group South Africa

The Field Hospital

Volkswagen Group South Africa

The Field Hospital

Volkswagen Group South Africa

Community Trust donation of masks

Caption: L – R: Mark Lawler (Ubomi Obutsha Centre), Lorna Lamerton (Thand’usana Babies Home), Nondumiso Langa (Ubomi Obutsha Centre), Volkswagen Community Trust manager Vernon Naidoo, former VWSA Chairman and Managing Director Thomas Schaefer, Nosipho Xapile (United Through Sport), Jonas Schumacher (Masifunde Learner Development) and Nick Mould (United Through Sport).