Eastern Cape Maritime Business Chamber appeals for government intervention

Without financial support small business are struggling to withstand the twin epidemics of Covid-19 and Eskom blackouts, according to the Eastern Cape Maritime Business Chamber chairperson Unathi Sonti.

“Small businesses are still under unprecedented strain throughout the country,” Sonti said in an opinion piece distributed to media this month.

He said the negative impact of Covid-19 lockdowns was exacerbated by load-shedding and poor distribution of lockdown relief via the SARB loan guarantee scheme. These and other challenges featured prominently in a recent report which showed that around 60% of businesses were under threat of closure due to the combined stresses assailing the SMME sector, Sonti said. “In terms of the scale of crises we face as a nation, the two that require the most urgent attention are undoubtedly unemployment and power,” Sonti said. “They are however indelibly linked, as I have personally seen in the Eastern Cape, whereby individuals, families and entire communities’ livelihoods have been decimated by the effects of load-shedding, as businesses – both small and large – have battled to stay afloat.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges as evidenced by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA)’s recently released unemployment statistics for the first quarter of 2021. Despite the national unemployment rate remaining constant at 32.6% for Q1 2021 (itself an all-time high), the Eastern Cape remains the province afflicted with the highest rate of unemployment at 43.8%, a searing indictment on the lack of economic opportunities in the region,” Sonti said.

In the Eastern Cape the maritime sector was central to the future prospects of the province, hence the need for government and industry-led intervention, Sonti said: “In September 2020, the Eastern Cape provincial government hosted a webinar which centred on how a post-Covid-19 world presented opportunities to refocus priority areas for maritime economic development. The participants agreed that the Province had a compelling value proposition for investors in the Oceans Economy, and that it was the opportune moment to act to leverage on this proposition.”

“I am in complete agreement of certain industry development initiatives including the establishment of a Maritime Industry LED Fund in order to facilitating the entry and development of small black business as well as rural economy development that will ensure progress is achieved in alleviating the joblessness of our people,” he said.

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