|As part of its measures to limit the spread of the virus in the country, the South African government announced a 2-week extension of an initial 3-week lockdown. It has also imposed restrictions on e-commerce companies selling what it considers non-essential items. South Africa currently has the highest number of coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa.
In response to the restrictions, logistics and eCommerce businesses wrote an open letter to Ebrahim Patel, the country’s trade and industry minister calling for the ban on delivery of non-essential items to be lifted. The group pointed out that it could have devastating effects on small businesses.
There’s no clear statement from the government on why e-commerce companies cannot deliver non-essential goods. However, one reason that is apparent is that companies still require warehouse staff members and logistics personnel to fulfil orders. Essential goods also require people to fulfil orders.
When this is put into consideration, the ban on non-essentials can be said to be an effort to reduce the movement of people to the barest minimum.
In response, e-commerce companies say they’ve implemented the necessary precautions. Greg le Roux, CEO, Loot.co.za said its delivery partners have implemented contactless delivery mechanisms to ensure smooth and safe delivery. Roux called on the government to expand its definition of essential services.
“We have been inundated with requests for non-essential goods as defined by the gazette, however, which are deemed very essential by our consumers. The demand for laptops, schoolbooks, stationery, etc, illustrates the need for the list of the essential items to be expanded so that South Africans can continue to live as normal as possible during the extended lockdown period,” Soux added.
South Africa is not the only country where startups have faced policy roadblocks relating to COVID-19. In Nigeria, logistics businesses were initially confused regarding their exemption status. Without prior information, the government identified certain businesses as essential and granted them exemptions.
This was unlike South Africa which created a portal for businesses to apply for exemption certificates. The confusion in Nigeria caused about 3,000 truck drivers on freight logistics platform Kobo360 to stop work for fear of harassment by law enforcement.