In March 2020, when President Ramaphosa first addressed our nation regarding the fast-spreading Covid-19 pandemic, no one foresaw what the future would hold. Much has been documented, and will continue to be, on the ongoing mental health and financial impact of the last 18+ months. And, whilst these discussions are essential, so too is highlighting the extraordinary measures undertaken by so many as they stepped up and stepped forward - and continue to do so - with fierce determination.
SIOC Community Development Trust (SIOC-CDT)
, is one example. Established in 2006 by Sishen Iron Ore Company (SIOC) (Pty) Ltd, it has as its mandate to "invest in the upliftment of the communities in which the mining company operates". At the start of 2020, its community development programme was well on track, based on a ‘theory of change’ approach that would emphasise education and skills development, entrepreneurial development and health and social welfare for the long-term sustainability of its communities. Then Covid-19 struck!
“We exist to serve our beneficiary communities as effectively as possible,” says Vusani Malie, CEO at SIOC-CDT. “Whilst we could not have foreseen a global pandemic, we had no choice but to regroup, redefine and recommit our resources and efforts in alignment with the dire need being experienced amongst our people. After a scrambling start, I’m immensely proud of how accurately and compassionately our SIOC-CDT team and our partners responded to the pandemic.”
SIOC-CDT’s community outreach has always been based on three areas of engagement – education, support for entrepreneurs and social welfare. The Covid-19 reality prompted SIOC-CDT to focus more intently on health and social welfare for the time being, as the pandemic damaged the basic viability of its communities.
“Our approach entailed an initial ‘first’ response followed by a ‘second and longer-term’ focused approach,” continues Malie. “Of immediate concern was to ensure the safety of our employees and beneficiaries. We moved quickly to secure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our employees and essential personnel.
Further, as schools and businesses locked down for the time being, we quickly realised that food and basic household necessities was a critical priority. Across all our communities the pandemic’s initial impact was a lack of income resulting in hunger. Businesses closed down, people weren’t able to attend work, and household income dwindled.” This saw SIOC-CDT intervene through a relief purchase of R5.3 million worth of food parcels and distribution of these in collaboration with government authorities at all levels and NGOs.
Kamogelo Semamai of Gamagara Local Municipality had this to say about interventions in the region, “SIOC-CDT agreed and committed to provide the poorer households with food hampers to sustain them through the times of national lockdown. This assistance and contributions from SIOC-CDT came at the time where it was needed most by these families identified.”
The second and longer-term response was focused on medical and education.
“Covid-19 began to reach our communities,” continues Malie. “People started getting sick and needed medical attention.” SIOC-CDT supports the Joe Morolong, Ga-Segonyana, Gamagara and Tsantsabane municipalities in the Northern Cape and Thabazimbi in Limpopo. This initiative included sponsoring a 50-bed ICU/high care unit and high care equipment such as ventilators and linen for three local hospitals.”
Kagisho Taolo, representative from the Department of Health in John Taolo Gaetsewe district says, “Contributions from SIOC-CDT enhanced efforts to save lives. You are a true impact maker. You are an organisation that enhances our work as a department.”
“On the education front, we consulted local authorities to identify gaps and provided 104,045 masks for learners at 206 schools, as well as temperature scanning devices to 107 schools”, continues Malie. “We also set up Maths and Science virtual platforms through which Stellenbosch University provided lectures, assignments and quizzes.”
Says Faith Moabi, an educator at Lesedi High School, “SIOC-CDT has helped us in a profound way. Not only did they contribute masks that we were able to distribute amongst our Gr8 learners, but there is also currently a Gr12 intervention underway that will hopefully allow our learners to have better results this year.” This is echoed by Botsetse Maggie Ngobeni of Groenvlei Secondary School, “You are really investing in the young minds.”
SIOC-CDT allocated R48.8 million to capacitate the regional healthcare and education systems, of which R36 594,999 million has been expended.
As is often the case, particularly with a response on this scale, there were challenges along the way. “Our biggest challenge was speed, in response to the sudden lockdown,” says Tao Mutsago, SIOC-CDT’s Head of Projects. “As a community trust, any new expenditure or change in planning must go through several levels of authority before being implemented. Having thorough checks and balances is sound corporate practice but, in this instance, it delayed our initial responses to the crisis”
Before presenting plans and budgets to its Board, SIOC-CDT worked with government and other stakeholders to identify gaps, after which it consulted its supply chain for specifications and costings. “We ensured that this process was rigorously transparent in light of the many procurement scandals in the news. We introduced an additional layer to the approval process to secure good governance, and value for money,” adds Mutsago.
“I am proud of our entire response, and especially proud of the quality of our responses to the crisis. Our development model and strategy were tested to the limit by the sudden arrival of Covid-19 but has proved well up to the task of providing for our communities under the most challenging conditions,” says Malie.
The arrival of Covid-19 also had a knock-on impact on stakeholder relations. Says Refilwe Sebogodi, Head Stakeholder Relations & Communications at SIOC-CDT: “It disrupted our communications with beneficiaries, since many are from remote areas where access to internet and accessibility is a challenge. We are presently establishing ground level communications with our beneficiaries and hope to resume public stakeholder gatherings in the near future.” Brought together by crisis – an enhanced stakeholder model is emerging. “Covid-19 is often referred to as ‘The Great Reset’ for human society. In our case, it certainly reset how we identify and engage with stakeholders. Organisations across the Northern Cape and Limpopo have realised how much more we can do as a collective, and how significant our work is to our beneficiaries,” Sebogodi adds.
Over and above all these interventions, SIOC-CDT also set up a Covid-19 relief fund to assist SMMEs who were negatively affected by the lockdown, helping to ensure survival of their businesses. Jobs were also saved by offering grants to SMMEs to enable them to cover their operational costs during this time.
“Initially the board approved an amount of R9m in 2020. Due to the negative impact of the lockdown on SMMEs, the SIOC-CDT board subsequently approved a further R15m – bringing the total budget for the SMME Covid-19 relief fund to R24m,” says Sipho Ngcai, Programme Manager Enterprise Development, SIOC-CDT.
As of 25 October 2021, 80% of these funds had been approved and disbursed to beneficiaries, with the target to fully disburse the remainder by end November 2021. “Once this has been achieved, SIOC-CDT will conduct an impact study on all the SMMEs who benefited to determine the exact socio-economic impact,” adds Ngcai.
Says Olebogeng Wagae of Pilara Solutions in Gasegonyane – in operation since 2014 and employing four staff members. “Covid-19 impacted my business heavily. I struggled with UIF payments and had to pay salaries out of my own pocket. Ultimately, I lost staff members whilst also ending my lease agreement due to rental arrears. On top of this, we also lost three key clients. It was a very difficult time!” The relief funds received from SIOC-CDT played an invaluable role in helping Pilara Solutions to find its feet and continue trading. “I was able to purchase the necessary professional software licenses for my staff, recruit additional interns as well as settle any outstanding rental. I am so grateful for the support received, without which my company would no longer be operating. SIOC-CDT – please continue assisting the communities of the Northern Cape! You have given me hope to dream big for future projects.”
As part of its relief efforts, SIOC-CDT also involved local procurement wherever possible. Debora Moruwa, one of six pensioners who operates from her garage offering sewing and catering services received an order for 5,586 masks from SIOC-CDT. “SIOC-CDT helps us a lot by giving us this project. And, when we submit a certain number of masks, we get paid as soon as they receive our invoice. Thank you.”
More recently, phase 3 has seen SIOC-CDT involved in and committed to an effective and ongoing vaccine roll-out amongst its communities. To date, R5m+ has been committed across the areas of personal protective clothing, laptops for capturing, internet connectivity and acceptable cold chain equipment/ conditions-fridges, cooler boxes and data loggers.
“With various countries still experiencing waves of Covid-19 infections, we cannot yet predict how deeply Covid-19 will impact the world at large and our communities in particular. I suspect that our health and social welfare initiatives will remain a top priority for at least another year. At the same time, we are not taking our eye off our education and entrepreneur programmes – essential to building up the viability of our communities over time. These have been repackaged for online interaction, which in many instances has improved the reach and efficiency of these programmes. Even as we battle the effects of Covid-19 in the now, our strategic approach to the projects will ensure that our communities are sustainable for many years to come,” concludes Malie.
Summary: SIOC-CDT’s response at a glance
Phase 1 – March to August 2020 – A total spend for this phase was cumulative amount of R8 385 884 used for Covid-19 relief covering the following areas:
- Supporting healthcare workers: providing healthcare workers with PPE and sanitisation materials
- Supporting the vulnerable: providing vulnerable households and safe havens with food parcels, groceries and blankets
- Resourcing testing and isolation centres: supplied with bedding and linen
- Disaster management support with PPE and consumables: provided PPE to the disaster management team
Phase 2 – an ongoing response to Covid-19 that aims to strengthen our communities in the long run, beyond the pandemic and even beyond the life of the mine. A total commitment for Phase 2 (as of mid-August 2021)
of R 36,594,999 focused on the areas of:
- Health: building the capacity of the healthcare system
- Social welfare: supporting people with disabilities
- Education: assisting schools with readiness for opening, keeping learners safe from the virus and salvaging the academic year
- Enterprise development: providing a Covid-19 relief fund for SMMEs who were affected by the lockdown
SIOC Community Development Trust (SIOC-CDT) was established in 2006 by Sishen Iron Ore Company (SIOC) (Pty) Ltd to invest in the uplifting of the communities in which the mining company operates in the Northern Cape and Limpopo. We invest significantly in community development projects aimed at ensuring sustainability beyond mining operations.
SIOC-CDT has substantiated its stated intention of “defining ourselves through actions, not our words” by investing over R1 billion in socio-economic and community development projects in its beneficiary communities; Gamagara, Tsantsabane, Ga-Segonyana and Joe Morolong in the Northern Cape, as well as Thabazimbi in Limpopo.