The internet site that businesses need to use to register as essential services to continue to trade during the upcoming lockdown has been experiencing downtime, just hours before the shutdown kicks in.
Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel on Wednesday announced that businesses may apply to be recognised as essential services using the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission's (CIPC) BizPortal website (bizportal.gov.za), from Thursday.
The lockdown kicks in on Thursday at midnight and will continue until April 16, 2020. Any business not deemed as an essential service cannot trade during this period.
According to regulations gazetted by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, essential goods and services include grocery stores, pharmacies, spaza shops, and funeral services, among others.
While the minister said the portal would be available "at the start of business trading hours" on Thursday, this has not been the case for all users.
Some applicants have been experiencing problems at various stages of the application process, and the site has also been down at various points of the day.
"The BizPortal website is currently not available at the moment due to maintenance. Please check back soon," a notice from the site read just before 15:00.
The process is meant to be automatic, with successful applicants being able to download their certification directly from the site, but the portal appears to have been experiencing difficulties in this regard.
Some business owners aired their frustrations on Twitter on Thursday.
One user Johan Viljoen suggested that the site can't cope with the amount of traffic on the site.
Another Twitter user Evelyn Palani said she could not access the site at all.
Some users have been getting error messages at different stages in the process.
While other users complained about not being able to reach anyone at the CIPC to deal with their queries.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Gerhard Papenfus, chief executive of the National Employers' Association of South Africa warned that because of the technical difficulties on the site, some businesses might not be able to get the required compliance certificate ahead of the lockdown because of difficulties experienced in the application process.
"The portal has not been functional at any stage and even if it can be accessed, company registration numbers are reflected as incorrect.
"It is absolutely mindboggling that government compels essential services businesses to register on a website in order to continue essential services required to keep the country afloat during the lockdown, but does not provide an effective mechanism for them to do so," said Papenfus.
He noted that non-compliance with the lockdown regulations are a criminal offence, which would carry heavy penalties for some businesses.
CIPC official Ofentse Shakung told Fin24 earlier that businesses would still be able to apply for their certification throughout the lockdown period.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), meanwhile, issued a statement on Thursday afternoon indicating that as of 14:00, more than 10 000 companies had successfully registered as providers of essential goods and services.
"Most of these have been in food supply, medical and pharmaceutical services and transport services. We will provide further update on communication platforms as to the number of registered businesses during the lockdown period," said DTI spokesperson Sidwell Medupe.
"The system is currently running with full functionality. We ask that companies be patient through the registration process, as there are large volumes presently being experienced.
"No companies will be prejudiced by any delay in the system. The service will continue to run tomorrow and beyond and it is not a requirement that companies complete registration before the lockdown begins," Medupe added.
Medupe said that companies may issue letters to their workers, independent of the registration process, which must be done ahead of the lockdown.
The department has warned that only companies permitted in terms of the lockdown process will be allowed to continue operating throughout the period.
"Any misrepresentation of information is a criminal offence and will be prosecuted. Already we have seen companies selling on-premise consumption of alcohol registering through the platform.
"Other examples include non-essential grooming for pets. We will advise these companies that this is not permitted, and may take further action if required," Medupe said.