LETTER: Cobra group evokes Dunkirk spirit
The task force seeks to rescue businesses in distress from the raging waters of the economic tsunami
The economic crisis in SA is more than a “100-year storm”. We are facing the greatest decline in the history of SA’s modern economy. Dr Miriam Altman, a member of the National Planning Commission and Covid Business Rescue Assistance (Cobra), SA’s largest pro bono initiative helping distressed businesses, forecasts unemployment rising to between 30% and 37%. Singular Group estimates it will take four to seven years to recover and forecasts GDP contracting 10%-16%.
But our economic crisis has been building for the past five years. Covid-19 has simply worsened the situation, and the technical recession confirmed in the first quarter of 2020 is likely to become an economic depression. The situation already seems to have exceeded the government’s support plan. The Treasury projects that job losses could reach up to 7-million due to the coronavirus pandemic. Never before has there been a clearer need for the government, business and civil society to work together to defend the threats to our economy.
Exactly 80 years ago, from May 26 to June 4 1940, a situation was unfolding on the beaches of Dunkirk, Northern France, that required a similar response. About 336,000 Allied troops were stranded. The shallow waters stopped British destroyers reaching the troops, many of whom had waded into the water for help. It was thanks to about 850 private, small boats manned by Royal Navy officers and volunteers, and Royal Air Force protection, that the troops were rescued. Operation Dynamo no doubt snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in what became the deadliest conflict in history: World War 2.
Something akin to the little ships of Dunkirk is taking place in SA today: the Cobra task force seeks to rescue businesses in distress as they stand shoulder-deep in the raging waters of the economic tsunami. Forty legal, financial, consulting and technology organisations are supporting formal and informal distressed businesses, from sole proprietors and SMMEs to listed enterprises.
Cobra intends to engage every bank and major funder in SA and attract foreign investors with an appetite for distressed assets. The Cobra approach can advance the actions underpinning government’s economic strategy to shorten our crisis and win the war to save livelihoods while saving lives.
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