The Covid-19 pandemic could not have come at a worse time for the South African economy. But when the worst of it has passed, we will emerge as a stronger, more resilient country.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet have taken swift and sensible action, including publishing a list of restrictions on travel and social interactions.
But South Africa is an extremely open economy, heavily dependent on the prosperity of its trading partners and investors, particularly China and Europe.
Unless those countries can tackle the pandemic quickly and effectively (and China is already showing encouraging statistics), then South Africa will be unable to get back on its feet.
In the first few days of the pandemic, the most appropriate response for government, businesses and individuals is to contain the spread of infection and give care to the ill.
It is not the time for politicians to make incendiary statements, for businesses to shut their doors or for individuals to stockpile groceries and sell their assets.
Within the chaos lies opportunity.
These are times when it is appropriate to draw on insurance or savings and help fellow South Africans as much as reasonably possible. As businesses, sending staff home without pay is as senseless as promising to pay people who are not working and generating revenue. Those promises cannot be fulfilled for long.
Like many other businesses around the world, we are doing our best to facilitate our staff working from home. In workplaces where that is not possible, strict hygiene and control measures can be implemented.
The longer-term consequences of letting the South African economy lie idle for weeks are too dire to contemplate.
But the next phase, as the virus is contained – and no-one knows how long that will take – presents a range of opportunities for business.
Practical measures taken to combat the virus could become embedded into a new, more productive approach to work which allows your staff more autonomy while measuring them on output rather than time spent in the office.
This could be used as a period for strategising with your staff to generate ideas on how to change the business model, to improve efficiencies, strengthening the resilience of the business or expanding opportunities.
It is a good time to sit down with other businesses in the same or similar sectors that may be amenable to partnerships or other consolidation/co-operation opportunities.
Those businesses for whom coronavirus is, sadly, the last straw, could be looking for buyers.
A crisis such as the coronavirus will, to some extent, bring out the best in South Africans.
There will always be irresponsible opportunists but most people in government, business and their communities are more likely to bury their differences and work together – while maintaining “social distancing”, of course.
What seems like yet another mountain to climb will turn out to be the opportunity to dig deep, shift your mindset and overcome numerous challenges and obstacles in ways that “ordinary” would have never facilitated.
This is the perfect backdrop to truly embed “How can we?” rather than “Why we can’t”.
No great success story ever happened without severe adversity and challenges being overcome. We plan to turn this crisis into a lesson that will make us more resilient in the long run.
Bahlmann is the MD of Deal Leaders Africa, a boutique M&A advisory firm working with the owners of privately-owned businesses to effectively manage their wealth out of their company.
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