Influx for help from Sukuma relief plan shows crippling impact of Covid-19 on SMEs

Business Partners media statement: 

Just days after applications opened for the Sukuma Relief Programme – an initiative aimed at supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are financially impacted by Covid-19 – the fund has been oversubscribed, with applications for financial assistance far exceeding the current available capital of R1bn. This includes both completed applications and applications in progress.

Ben Bierman, Managing Director at Business Partners – one of Africa’s leading risk finance companies for SMEs and the appointed Administrator of the fund – says the high number of applications that the programme received over the past weekend, as well as on Monday (6 April 2020), is indicative of the crippling impact that the Covid-19 crisis is having on South African SMEs.

The combined value of the two applicant categories for the programme, that is, (1) the close corporations, companies and trust category and the (2) formal sole proprietor category, exceeds R2.8bn. “This exceeds the available donated capital of R1bn almost three times over. As such, we have decided to suspend access to the application portal with immediate effect.

“We will now be using the next seven days to assess the applications received and provide feedback to the applicants. Should we thereafter find that there is still capital available, either because some of the applicants were not verified and approved, or because we have managed to secure additional capital, we will then open the programme for applications again,” says Bierman.

Bierman emphasises that none of the Business Partner clients will benefit from the Sukuma Relief Programme. “We will announce a similar relief initiative for our clients over the next couple of days, for which we will use our own funds. None of our clients stand to benefit from the Sukuma Relief Programme, even though they might have applied to the programme. The overwhelming response we received dictates that Business Partners must assist its own clients, thereby potentially freeing up more capital for SMEs.”

Speaking about the overwhelming response, Bierman says it is effectively a cry for help from South Africa’s SME sector. “Just three days after the online portal was opened for applications, the programme has already received in excess of 10,000 applications from formal sole proprietors, close corporations, companies and trusts.”

Emphasising the grave need for additional capital to continue supporting the struggling SME sector, Bierman is now calling on big businesses and corporations to contribute funding to the Sukuma Relief Programme. “We realised when engaging with our clients that the situation is dire, but we have been surprised by the sheer number of SMEs that are in desperate need of assistance.

“We unfortunately had to close the online application portal as the Programme is already severely oversubscribed, and in keeping the portal open, we run the risk of not being able to meet expectations.

“As such, we are making a public plea to other big businesses that are looking to support local SMEs during this critical time. SMEs are the lifeblood of our economy and they are in need of financial assistance, now more than ever before, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now is the time to get involved and support each other,” Bierman concludes.