A R1 billion fund set up by the Rupert family to assist small businesses financially impacted by Covid-19 has been oversubscribed, just days after it opened.
The fund, known as the Sukuma Relief Programme, is administered by Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), a leading risk finance company for small and medium enterprises, co-owned by billionaire Johann Rupert.
Applications for the Sukuma programme officially opened on Friday 3 April, but it has since reached its capacity, with applications exceeding the current available capital of R1 billion, BUSINESS/PARTNERS said in a statement issued on Monday night. According to BUSINESS/PARTNERS, this includes completed applications and applications in progress.
BUSINESS/PARTNERS managing director Ben Bierman said that the high number of applications received by the programme over the weekend and Monday reflects the "crippling" impact of the Covid-19 crisis on SA small businesses.
"Just three days after the online portal was opened for applications, the Programme has already received in excess of 10 000 applications from formal sole proprietors, close corporations, companies and trusts," said Bierman.
The combined value of the two application categories of the programme - close corporations and sole proprieters exceeds R2.8 billion. "This exceeds the available donated capital of R1 billion almost three times over. As such, we have decided to suspend access to the application portal with immediate effect," said Bierman.
Bierman said BUSINESS/PARTNERS will assess the applications over the next seven days. If there is capital available, in the case that some applicants could not be verified or approved, then the programme will be opened for applications again.
Bierman called on big businesses and corporations to contribute funding to the Sukuma Relief Programme. "We realised when engaging with our clients that the situation is dire, but we have been surprised by the sheer number of SMEs that are in desperate need of assistance," he said.
"We unfortunately had to close the online application portal as the programme is already severely oversubscribed, and in keeping the portal open, we run the risk of not being able to meet expectations.
"As such, we are making a public plea to other big businesses that are looking to support local SMEs during this critical time ... Now is the time to get involved and support each other," Bierman said.
The Sukuma programme will provide qualifying sole proprietors a non-repayable grant of R25 000. Formal close corporations, companies and trusts are eligible for an unsecured loan that ranges between R250 000 and R1 000 000, with no repayment obligations or interest incurred for the first 12 months - this is in addition to a R25 000 grant, according to Bierman. The repaid funds will be used to support other small businesses through challenging times.
Compiled by Lameez Omarjee