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Government Funds Covid 19 Trapped SME

The Silverton, Pretoria based company received R80 000 from the government to enable it to continue with its business operations at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to badger the world.

The 100% black-owned entity which currently employs five permanent staff members, was established in 2013 by 33-year-old entrepreneur Happy Shabangu.

The company which was formed as a branding, promotions and supply business, was like many others, affected by the lockdown and civil unrest witnessed in the two provinces.

“We received R80 000 which was a COVID-19 relief loan from SEFA. This money was used to buy more sewing machines to meet the increased demand for cloth facemasks.

“The demand for what we normally do, that is, corporate clothing and school uniforms, dropped dramatically during the hard lockdown and as such, we had to look into other opportunities.

We started manufacturing products like cloth masks and disposable masks and sanitisers to keep the business afloat,” says Shabangu.

As many other companies would attest, COVID-19 also led to constant production interruptions as a result of workers being infected by the virus.

“This meant we could not meet some deadlines,” he said, adding that the unrest experienced in the two provinces led to the company’s suppliers shutting down.

This meant that the company could not obtain the necessary material for production and fell behind on production, which in turn, resulted in delayed payments from its clients.

Currently, the company is looking at securing more sustainable contracts to increase its capacity to deliver more and on time to its clients while also creating more permanent jobs.

The funding injection has led to the company being able to operate machinery for 24-hours in a bid to meet clients’ demands.

“Currently we have five permanent staff members and when we receive more orders, we employ more temporary staff to enable us to meet clients’ orders. We look forward to employing more permanent staff members,” he says.

Schools, which place orders for school jerseys as well as government departments, which place orders for facemasks, are the company’s main clients.

The company also does work for private companies, stokvels and social clubs. In the past 14 to 18 months, the company manufactured over 300 000 cloth masks for both government and private sector companies.

Adapting to a changing environment

“That changed our line of business a little bit to adapt to COVID-19. That means we have to do something we have not done previously.

The manufacturing of face masks, that is the business our government helped [us] to secure. The Department of Small Business came to us with a list of clients,” he said.

During a visit to the company’s business premises, staff were hard at work to meet pressing deadlines.

Shabangu’s wife, Thoko, who is also the company’s Operations Manager has been with the company since 2016, and cannot imagine working anywhere else.

 “I don’t see myself doing something else other than working here,” she said.

The Operations Manager, who learned to operate machinery on the job, also provides training to staff members.

To date, the company has 52 machines of which 40 are used for embroidery purposes.

Access to funding is one of the biggest hurdles for small businesses in South Africa. In response to this challenge, SEFA continues to provide assistance to build sustainable businesses, through repayable loans.

SEFA’s core function is to foster the establishment, development and growth of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and co-operatives, and to contribute towards poverty alleviation, job creation and economic growth.

While the company has faced challenges in the past several months, it remains resolute to create more jobs for the community.

“During the past few months, we had challenges but with the support, we received from our government we are looking to grow the business. The company is committed to the creation of jobs for the community,” he says.

To adapt to a changing environment, the company also intends to introduce more technology as a way to increase its manufacturing capacity.

While the country continues to face unemployment challenges that are further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, initiatives run by agencies such as the SEFA are making a much-needed difference in the lives of businesses.

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