Business Vs Covid-19: Weathering The Storm

Nompumelelo Bhengu Director of KBR Property Investment (Pty) Ltd, South Africa

KBR Property Investment is a Johannesburg based company with it’s mining partner employing over 120 workers.

They specialize in property investment, property management as well as renovation and maintenance.The company is also into mining with it’s partners.

Nompumelelo Bhengu, the Director of KBR Property Investment talks to Afripreneur Conference about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their business and how the company intends to recover from the crisis into thriving mood.

How has the pandemic and its consequences impacted the activity of KBR Property Investment (Pty) Ltd?

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our businesses greatly which caused us to suspend operations and we asked our workers to stay home.There was no money coming in and our employees had to stay without income for over two months.The Mine has over 120 employees and you can imagine the crisis of not having money to pay workers even when all the promises from the South African government of relief funds in place but these funds are not accessible as most of their offices are closed and the ineffectiveness thereof, is making the situation even worst.

What were the first steps you took to tackle the shift?

When the first case of the Covid-19 was announced in South Africa, we knew we were in trouble and all we could think about first was safety. We insured the safety of our staff and followed all instructions given by the Health and the Labour Department.

Most of the Big Mines could still function under this process, but ours couldn’t due to lack of resources.We depend largely on manual labour as we have no sophisticated machines. We also depend on suppliers for after service support and their production process. As a result, when the government announced the lockdown, most of our suppliers went on the lockdown so we had no choice but to also go on the lockdown.

According to you, what is the impact of the outbreak on the mining sector in Africa?

The mining sector in Africa is one of the significant sectors that drives the African economy. The continent exports the minerals and these minerals bring in foreign exchange to governments and the outbreak of this virus has caused a lot of uncertainties in the sector.

With international airports and factories closed down, demand for Africa’s minerals has fallen off as Covid-19 hits key trading partners and this has definitely affected the economy of African countries that export these minerals.

SEE ALSO: AFRICA ENTREPRENEUR CONFERENCE 2020

How do you see the months to come for KBR Property Investment (Pty) Ltd?

Business has taken a downhill as we shutdown as a result of the lockdown.Over last few days, we have began operating the plant department.There is still a lot of work to be done and funds are required to be able to function and open all the shafts and this will make the coming months a challenge. We have brought back about 30% of our staff to work and totally depending on the little output produced to be able to meet our expenses and stay in business.

Are you interacting with other businesses during this period?

Yes.We are in contact with new clients for the Business Administration and Corporate Governance Service side of KBR Property Investment and we have taken the lockdown period to increase our clientele and better ourselves to providing better and efficient service to our clients. Working from home with ease to make sure that we are not totally shut down in this predicament.

We are also learning and getting involved with companies already in business to get solutions.

How do you see the overall situation evolving in the months to come for the mining sector?

We have started trading again on the current level 3 and things are going really very slowly and it will take some time for us to recover all that was lost. The machines in the mines are designed to work 24/7 hence we had day and night shift workers because to shut down our system costs even much more. It will take Mines like ours a long time to get back to where we were before this crisis.

Good things could come out of this health crisis?

There were relief funds received by our government from IMF and World Bank and I hope that they will reach businesses and be allocated for the purposes they were collected and this will be something good. Some businesses saw this pandemic as an opportunity to start supplying safety products and detergents in demand. I believe this has helped some Entrepreneurs who are passionate about solving the problem instead of being part of the problem and in the process are thriving during this crisis.

So, yes, something good could come out of this Covid-19 for businesses which can adapt and pivot.

Do you think this crisis will have a long-term impact on the sector? Why and how?

It has impacted us greatly and recovery process will take more than what we can anticipate. Our government is also driven by what the scientists are saying, so there is no exact clear solution or clarity to what we are facing and how long it will last. Looking at history about such diseases, we can only speculate.The panic around this disease has caused too much fear for the future.

Do you see other long-term changes coming?

Business is not going to be the same as we are in the era of the new normal. The African economy and that of the world have been impacted greatly and it is evident that a lot must be implemented to revive economies. Changes in how we will conduct business going forward and safety rules are going to be with us and it’s not going away anytime soon.

What is your recovery Strategy post Covid-19?

Our plan is to sit down with our workers and make them understand the current status of the company and how we can all move together to achieve our goals and increase productivity with limited labour resources involved. This will give us a buy in from our stakeholders.

We will seek funds that will help us acquire new machinery and also get electricity installed in our other idle shafts to increase production and effectiveness.

There is a lot to be done and with the hard labour that our employees are exposed to, it will be vital to put them first and focus on bringing back all of our workers and also creating new job opportunities by opening other shafts that were not in use due to lack of funds.

What is your advice for the Entrepreneurs in this trying time?

My advice to Entrepreneurs is, we should have an unstoppable spirit and do our best to not only dwell on the negative but have a vision to see beyond this current pandemic situation. This too shall pass, so let us use this Covid-19 pandemic to restructure ourselves and have strategies that will keep our businesses sustainable.

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