It is important for the recently established Solidarity Fund, set up by government in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak in South Africa, to operate with transparency and to exercise good governance. This way, South Africans will have faith in its work, which is to respond urgently to the devastation brought on by the pandemic, while working to curb its potential impact on the most vulnerable members of society.

These are the sentiments shared on Monday by the fund’s chairperson, Gloria Serobe, who was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa just over a week ago. Serobe led a virtual media briefing on Monday this week, in which she and her team responded to pertinent questions about the operations of the fund.

In his live television address on Sunday 22 March, when Ramaphosa first announced the establishment of the fund, he assured the nation that it would be “administered by a reputable team of people, drawn from financial institutions, accounting firms and government”. Adrian Enthoven of Yellowwoods is the deputy chairperson.

Its first few days saw the establishment of a bank account into which donations can be made and the pulling together of a board that will include civil society leadership, to oversee operations. While the latter task has not yet been completed, Serobe said this has not distracted them from their efforts.  

The key objectives of the fund, she said, are to:

  • support the healthcare sector in its efforts to flatten the curve of infection numbers;
  • provide humanitarian support to vulnerable households and communities who have been affected by the virus; and
  • to mobilise a solidarity campaign that will unite the nation in the effort to see through the pandemic,

“As the pandemic continues to evolve at a rapid rate, we are moving with urgency; we have seen the fund progress from concept to operational in little over two weeks,” said Serobe.

Generous donations

To help kick start its efforts, government put in R150-million, the president said, with expectations of the private sector coming to the party over the next several weeks. By Monday, the fund had recorded a balance of R500-million in its account.

The latest donation to the fund is for R1-billion, from Mary Oppenheimer and daughters, announced on Tuesday through a media statement.

Serobe clarified that the fund is not going to help alleviate the financial pressure placed on small businesses by the lockdown declared by Ramaphosa last week. Donations declared by Oppenheimer’s brother Nicky as well as the Rupert and Motsepe families – of R1-billion each – will not be channelled through the Solidarity Fund. It is these donations, however, that are expected to address the needs of SMMEs. 

“This unprecedented situation is placing strain on all our lives,” said Mary Oppenheimer in the statement. “But especially on our vulnerable communities, South Africans who struggle even in normal times to meet the basic needs of their families, to buy food and pay for medical and other necessities.”

Accountability and transparency

Ramaphosa promised that the fund “will fully account for every cent contributed and will publish the details on the website.”

Its first order of business was to place an order for five million protective masks from China, primarily for use by healthcare practitioners. South Africa is currently in short supply of protective gear for healthcare workers, with the growing number of tests and screenings at its facilities across the country. Although it would have been preferred to procure from local mask manufacturers, the urgency was in getting as many as possible within a short space of time. There is also a shortage of material required to manufacture locally, explained Serobe.

Apart from acquiring the medical gear, however, the fund has also put money aside for a communications campaign aimed at spreading Covid-19 awareness to far-flung areas that may not have access to the information that has been dispersed to date. It is believed that it is in this area of its work that the civil society component will play a vital role.

Corruption Watch will keep updating readers on the work of the fund.