South Africa is one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 on the African continent, and while the country’s vaccine rollout is underway — with roughly 1 in 6 people now fully vaccinated — it still has a long way to go in terms of recovering from the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.
Inequality in the country has been exacerbated as a result of COVID-19: over 2.2 million jobs have been lost, food insecurity has risen across the country, the increasing digital divide has cost children their access to education, and gender-based violence saw a sharp rise during the country’s lockdowns. All of this is to say that South Africa has shifted further away from being able to achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals to end extreme poverty by 2030.
To get back on track to overcoming these inequalities and reaching these goals, it will take collaboration between the public and private sectors. Partnership between these two entities has been a running theme when it comes to pandemic recovery globally, and South Africa’s private sector has shown over the last year that it is willing to help step up to put citizens first in the face of crisis.
On Sept. 22, Global Citizen hosted a virtual roundtable with some of South Africa’s leaders and experts in communication technology, finance, health, and entrepreneurship in a discussion about the private sector’s role in responding to a worldwide crisis. Leading the discussion was conversation strategist and Global Citizen Fellowship Advisory Council Member, Nozipho Tshabalala.
The conversation flowed between attendants, a discourse that was not only insightful, but offered solutions to pertinent issues that the country is facing.
Speakers at the event included Global Citizen Regional Director, Chebet Chikumbu; Executive Head of Corporate Affairs at Multichoice, Collen Dlamini; Africa CDC’s head of policy, Benjamin Djoudalbaye; Senior Public Policy Director at CISCO, Charmaine Houvet; Executive Public Policy Director at Vodacom, Taki Netshitenzhe; and Deputy Chairperson at the Nedbank Foundation, Khensani Nobanda.
Each shared how their companies have been stepping up to support South Africa’s people through the pandemic, and how they plan to continue until we’re fully recovered from COVID-19. Here are some key initiatives shared at the roundtable that help illustrate how the private sector has been supporting the recovery.
1. Helping Secure COVID-19 Vaccines for Africa
Currently the world’s best defence against COVID-19 is the vaccine, which the African continent has struggled to secure for its population as a result of vaccine nationalism — where wealthy nations have hoarded more than enough vaccine doses for their populations, leaving middle- and low-income countries to scramble to inoculate their people.
This point was raised by Tshabalala before asking the speakers how their respective companies would contribute to pandemic recovery.
“At the core of this moment in history is also perhaps an opportunity for us to pause and think about what is our survival instinct,” she said, “and we saw in some nations how that instinct was self preservation and vaccine nationalism and now is an opportunity to open up and to share.”
Africa CDC’s Benjamin Djoudalbaye noted the importance of having private entities contribute to vaccine procurement efforts. He explained that members of the private sector have been particularly helpful in providing funds to secure doses for the continent, as well as forming part of the task force aimed at negotiating for and securing vaccines.
Global Citizen’s Chebet Chikumbu saluted the collaboration efforts of public and private sectors in this regard, saying: “As we're thinking about the role that each one of us is playing here, there's a golden thread of global solidarity that really comes through. And what we're seeing as a movement of action takers, is that this is really the fastest and most effective way to defeat this global health crisis.”
2. Providing Accessible and Accurate COVID-19 Vaccine Information for the Public
While it’s vital to make sure that there are enough vaccines for the people that need them, another significant issue in South Africa and across Africa has been tackling vaccine misinformation and hesitancy. Multichoice’s Collen Dlamini spoke about how he and the team at Africa’s leading broadcast and communications company saw an opportunity to share accurate information with their large audiences.
“We partnered with the Department of Health to assist them in combating vaccine hesitancy in South Africa, and in South Africa, it's been a big issue,” he said.
“We decided that we're going to assist the department and ramp up the messages on social media. We're going to also produce public service announcements and promos, using the Multichoice Talent Factory interns,” he continued. “These are young people who know how messages are going to resonate with other young people, so they are producing really cool and creative content.”
This is all in order to make sure that as vaccines become available to the public, citizens will understand their purpose and rely on scientific information in their decision about getting a vaccine.
3. Investing in Taking Education Online
Education inequality has been one of South Africa’s most pressing issues for years, but the impact of school closures as a result of COVID-19 have made matters worse. With schools closing and education moving online, the stark “digital divide” in South Africa — between those with internet access and those without — has become even more evident.
Vodacom has been ahead of the curve in making sure that South Africa’s children are computer literate and have access to online means of learning. It has long run programmes that have invested in digitising education and, at the roundtable, Takie Netshitenzhe outlined the next steps in innovative education that the company is planning to take.
“We are in the process of rolling out the virtual classroom as a pilot project,” she announced. “If this is successful, we know that it is going to unleash a lot of potential to ensure that young children in South Africa are educated, and not just educated, but that they get good quality education which they can access anywhere.”
Nedbank Foundation’s Khensani Nobanda also added that Nedbank had partnered with tech giant Microsoft to provide learning opportunities for young South Africans.
“We've partnered with Microsoft to basically give digital learning opportunities to 10,000 young people, with confirmed jobs after that digital learning opportunity,” she said.
4. Boosting Investments Into Small Businesses
Every speaker noted that one key way to uplift the country’s economy and to tackle unemployment is to invest in small businesses and entrepreneurs.
CISCO’s Houvet said that the company is aiming to work with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and to provide them with the resources that they need to “help better enable solutions to grow SMEs, and to also enable acceleration of innovative products for them.”
Nedbank Foundation’s Nobanda said that the bank had launched a few initiatives to help SMEs get their businesses off the ground, particularly an initiative called Beke le Beke.
“We've realised that actually that entrepreneurship space is quite important,” she said, explaining that the aim of Nedbank’s initiative is to provide support for entrepreneurs to access financial assistance and banking advice.
5. Helping to Fight Gender-Based Violence
In partnership with the South African government, Vodacom hosts the country’s Gender-Based Violence Command Centre, to which survivors of abuse can turn for emergency assistance. Netshitenzhe said that the company had pledged R45 million (over $3 million) to assist in the country’s fight against GBV.
“We saw the GBV cases spiraling out of control,” she said, speaking about the country’s COVID-19 lockdown. “And we know that the President actually declared gender-based violence the second pandemic.”
She also spoke about the vital need to make sure that people who have become pregnant as a result of GBV still have access to education, and raised this as a point that still needs a solution.