Mpumalanga’s small traders who do not meet the Covid-19 coronavirus relief fund requirements should not despair because the province will soon begin a process to identify them and come to their rescue.
Finance and Economic Development MEC Pat Ngomane said that his department would appoint a company to identify the traders, who are mostly making too little money to be registered for tax or operate as registered entities.
“The research company will collect all the information on informal traders in the province even those making as little as R30 a day. We must know who they are, where they are and what they do because most of them do not meet the criteria that has been set to qualify for relief funding,” Ngomane said.
Ngomane said that his department has asked the provincial cabinet to allocate R500 000 to assist those traders, who will still be identified, to help them counter the adverse impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.
“We’re bringing economists on board to develop out own relief measures as a province. We’ve had people who sell traditional medicine complaining that pharmacists are open but they’re not selling,” he said.
Ngomane said that in the long run these traders would be assisted to operate formally.
Tourism on its knees
The MEC said that he would meet tourism stakeholders this week to devise a strategy of reviving the industry.
Ngomane said he envisaged that it would take time for the industry to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Before Covid-19, Mpumalanga’s tourism industry was already bleeding due to criminals targeting foreign tourists especially in the Lowveld region, which boasts attractions such as the big five Kruger National Park and the God’s Window.
Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism chairperson, Oupa Pilane, said that most of the tourism facilities – 95% – were small businesses with an annual turnover less than R5 million.
“The industry is on its knees. Travel agencies were threatening to stop sending tourists to us because of the crime,” Pilane said.
“Our main concern is the workers, and the worst thing is that these relief funds are not helping us because most claims are being rejected without any reasons. This process can be made easier by having Unemployment Insurance Fund offices placed in regional or municipal offices,” Pilane said.
Highveld Tourism Mpumalanga chairperson, Athol Stark, said that they were concerned that 98% of tourism businesses would not get assistance if the criteria that would be used to offer relief funding would be determined on broad based black economic development criteria.
“We’re sorry for our staff members who will definitely lose their jobs. We will however have a meeting with everybody in the tourism business to explore other ways of surviving. This pandemic challenges us to change the way we operate … we’ve been in a comfort zone where tourist just book and come to stay at our facilities,” Stark said.
“Our shining light at the moment is that banks are prepared to give us a holiday,” he added.
Ngomane said that tourists would be reluctant to travel after lockdown restrictions had been lifted.
“We will first have to focus on encouraging local tourists to travel but the challenge is that they may not afford it,” he said.