Picture: 123RF/BETON STUDIO
Picture: 123RF/BETON STUDIO

Though the Solidarity Fund has raised R2.6bn in just a month, this is a “drop in the ocean” given the challenges facing the country, the interim head of the fund said at an online press briefing on Thursday.

“While the amount raised is commendable, especially given the time period, and sounds like a lot, it is important to note that against the scale of the challenges we face, it is still a drop in the ocean,” said interim CEO Nomkhita Nqweni.

The fund was set up by President Cyril Ramaphosa as SA headed into the lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19. It is intended to act as a rapid response vehicle to support SA’s health response to the pandemic, contribute to a nationwide humanitarian effort, and run a solidarity campaign to help educate people about changing their behaviour.

In recent weeks the fund has established an independent board chaired by business leader Gloria Serobe, with much of the work being done on a pro bono basis by organisations and individuals.

The fund received R150m in seed capital from the government and has received pledges from more than 75,000 individuals and about 1,000 businesses.

According to Paul Bondi, its head for fundraising, individual donations have ranged from as little as R2 to more than R1m, and, to date, R1.6bn of the pledges have arrived in the fund’s bank account. But given the limited resources the fund has, “it is imperative to ensure that when we do act, the impact is immediate and can be sustained”, said Nqweni.

Its work must also be viewed in conjunction with all the other interventions being deployed by the government, corporates and civil society, she said, including Ramaphosa’s recently launched R500bn stimulus package.

The management of the funds will be overseen by a board and its three sub-committees — the fundraising; audit, risk and compliance; and disbursements committees — that will ensure proper policies, controls, and risk frameworks are in place, she said.

Transparency will underpin the management of the money as the fund aims to account for “each step of the way”.

The fund will relaunch its website this weekend as an information portal that will provide detailed information regarding the use of pledges and donations.

The fund’s main effort thus far has been to bolster the government’s health response — with about R1.1bn of funds directed towards the procurement of health equipment, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), test kits and ventilators.

Nqweni, said that as the effect of the pandemic unfolds, it will “continue to re-evaluate the situation to ensure our interventions remain relevant”, though its interventions are unlikely to take the form of direct economic or job support measures. These will be driven by the economic stimulus package announced by Ramaphosa on Tuesday, she said.

However, the fund’s health procurement efforts are now looking at ways to optimise local manufacturing, which “will help us in unlocking a value chain in the SA economy”.

Humanitarian relief

The fund has also rolled out its humanitarian relief effort — to address food security issues facing poor households.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen an escalation in the need for humanitarian assistance across all nine provinces, including remote areas,” said Nicola Galombik, the organisation’s lead on its humanitarian efforts. “We’ve been overwhelmed by requests for assistance and we know these are extremely difficult times for South Africans.”

The fund has begun to roll out 250,000 food parcels to households across the country for April, with each parcel containing enough to last a household for two to four weeks, depending one the household’s size.

Business Day has previously reported that this is likely to cost in the region of R120m. But Galombik said in the medium term, “more systemic” solutions will be required both through additional government grants and a sustainable food supply chain.

Galombik said the fund is committed to full transparency and the highest governance standards and that these principles are being applied to all partnerships the fund enters into.

In recent weeks, the government’s food parcel distribution campaign has been plagued by allegations of corruption — with councillors reportedly attempting to extort fees from recipients eligible for the parcels.

donnellyl@businesslive.co.za

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