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Sim Tshabalala (full image set)

Standing firm in the face of a global crisis

Africa has shown its resilience to the world, and now needs to position itself for a recovery

By Sim Tshabalala, Standard Bank Group CEO 

The COVID-19 pandemic is an economic and humanitarian crisis like no other in our lifetime. In addition to the tragic loss of lives, it has robbed millions of families of their livelihoods and set back Africa’s growth for a least a year.  

But there is also a good chance that it will be remembered as a turning point in history as governments, businesses, NGOs and citizens around Africa and the world rallied together behind a common cause to save lives and livelihoods in ways we have never seen before. 

In that sense, the crisis we find ourselves in is a story of hope, and one of Africa’s resilience in the face of adversity. The uniquely African spirit of ubuntu has been on full display as people and institutions raced to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. 

Wealthy families and individuals, from South Africa’s Oppenheimers and Motsepes to Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote, have donated billions towards relief efforts, while corporate executives have foregone large portions of their incomes to assist in the fight. So have citizens across the continent, including Standard Bank employees, who have made brave and selfless contributions to supporting our communities throughout the pandemic. 

Companies in every sector have taken extraordinary steps to protect their employees and customers. Many organisations, Standard Bank included, set up shuttle services so that frontline staff did not have to rely on public transport. Some, also including Standard Bank, paid appreciation bonuses to customer-facing employees, while others quickly repurposed their manufacturing facilities and capabilities to produce sanitiser and much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Protecting our people

At Standard Bank, we have done everything in our power to protect our staff. This has included splitting teams, restricting the number of people in our branches, insisting on physical distancing and distributing sanitiser and PPE across our branches, call centres and offices.  Nevertheless, it  has taken a lot of courage and dedication to go to work every day at the height of the pandemic, and we are enduringly grateful to all the Standard Bank people who have continued to work on the frontline to support our clients through this very difficult time.

From the earliest days of the pandemic, the Standard Bank Group committed to doing everything in its power to assist our clients. Over the first six months of 2020, Standard Bank’s Personal and Business Banking division (PBB) provided R118 billion in relief to individuals and small, medium and commercial clients. The Corporate and Investment Banking division (CIB) concluded restructures for eligible clients amounting to R48 billion. We waived a range of fees, provided relief to insurance clients, paid out credit insurance claims, and distributed employer relief funds and social grants. We are also active participants in the R200 billion loan-guarantee scheme in partnership with other South African banks and the government.

Supporting our communities

In addition to our regular annual CSI spending (R72 million year to date in South Africa), we committed an additional R70 million to COVID-19 relief in South Africa. In our African businesses beyond South Africa, we spent nearly US$ 3 million on responding to the pandemic. In Kenya, for example, we donated 192 ventilators to the Ministry of Health, almost doubling the number of ventilators available countrywide, and facilitated acquisition of PPE from China for the government. Standard Bank Lesotho has funded the construction of an ICU unit; and Standard Bank Namibia has provided PPE to informal settlements and assistance to government in disbursing Namibia’s emergency income grant.  

COVID-19 has exposed the deep inequalities that still exist in all parts of Africa. The poor have fallen further behind as access to employment took a major hit, and the gains in gender equality made in recent years risk being rolled back as women shoulder much of the burden created by COVID-19.  

But the pandemic has also shown us that Africa’s people, governments and businesses can work quickly and effectively together for the common good. Armed with this knowledge, and with the new capacities we have built together over this difficult and often tragic year, Africa will undoubtedly not only recover from the pandemic, but emerge stronger and more united.