We have responded well to some of the recent crises we have faced as a country. In response to numerous challenges – Covid-19 perhaps above them all – we have pulled together, particularly government and business.
The Solidarity Fund brought together people from public and private sectors, government and business, to rapidly raise funds to fight Covid and deploy them most effectively. Business, through a rapidly assembled voluntary forum, Business for South Africa, mobilised resources from the private sector and worked extensively with the Department of Health to support the vaccine rollout and much else. This worked because of the positive response and willingness to partner from government – it was a true partnership that brought the parties’ respective skills and resources together to ensure the most effective actions could be taken to confront the crisis.
The challenge, however, is to ensure all collaborators have sufficient capacity to engage and plan for such joint action.
In the case of the KwaZulu-Natal floods, this is proving problematic.
Particularly at local government level, there is often a lack of capacity to assess the impact of a disaster and then to determine what assistance is needed. That is both the assistance that business can offer, but also that central government can offer.
The unspent R1 billion emergency disaster relief fund that National Treasury put aside following the floods is a case in point. They remain unspent because Treasury has not received applications with the correct documentation from the provincial and municipal structures that need to spend the money. This reflects the capacity problem – local government structures are unable to assess the damage or plan for recovery.
Business similarly can work to rally resources and look to partner with government and civil society structures where they are needed. Increasingly, however, the challenge is to assess just what is needed. Through its operations and staff, business is on the ground and can directly assess damage and understand what interventions can be useful, but this is always limited to the areas in which businesses operate. Increasingly, resource support is needed for the first step, a comprehensive assessment of the damage and then a plan for repair and recovery that can be rapidly implemented.
In the KwaZulu-Natal floods example, estimates of the damage have differed dramatically, from R1 billion to R50 billion. Such a range indicates that an agreed assessment of the damage does not yet exist, nor does the plan to repair the damage.
We should be aiming not just to repair the damage caused by the floods but to improve resilience to climate change to be able to handle more frequent extreme weather. There remains both immediate relief needed, with thousands still being accommodated in temporary structures, and then a longer-term plan.
There is now a concerted effort to build momentum to collaborate to bring relief and rebuild. We are determining how business can effectively support this. As is always the case, every disaster is unique and we learn new ways of engaging as we go. What doesn’t change, however, is the consistent willingness of organised business, and the many other businesses that often collaborate to tackle specific problems, to work with partners.
Busi Mavuso is CEO of Business Leadership South Africa