Things were tough enough for the South African electronics manufacturing industry before, but this year has thrown up unprecedented challenges that nobody could have foreseen and which are outside of their control. Fortunately we haven’t had to endure much load shedding, but it’s a safe bet that there’ll be more to come.
The major challenge, of course, is COVID-19 and coping with the ‘new normal’. South African citizens deserve credit for conscientiously following face mask wearing and physical distancing guidelines, as opposed to the USA where people think it’s their constitutional right to do whatever they damn well please – at the time of writing, the USA has 4,35 million confirmed cases and almost 150 000 deaths, by far the worst statistics anywhere in the world and representing around 25% of all global cases despite only comprising 4,25% of the global population.
We have, however, seen a major surge locally since partially opening up from lockdown Level 4 to Level 3, which has resulted in the country currently being ranked fifth in the number of COVID-19 cases. The stats are scary enough
(460 000 cases and 7257 deaths according to the Department of Health), but I know two people who have contracted it, which really brings it close to home. No doubt many people reading this will know someone who has, or has had, COVID-19 (and hopefully survived it).
Fortunately the highly digitalised world we’re living in means that remote working is possible for many people and companies without any effect on productivity – I’m working from home as I write this. Manufacturers, however, don’t have that luxury for the most part, since making things still requires significant hands-on human involvement. They have therefore had to put in place sanitisation, physical distancing and other measures to ensure the safety of their staff. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than not being able to make anything at all. It adds extra costs to companies that were already under pressure, but hopefully their efforts are effective enough and there is enough business for them to keep ticking over until we have a vaccine.
According to Microtronix’ Mike Goodyer (see his article here) the company’s staff are happy to be back at work and motivated. He says the “biggest challenges have been the interruptions in the supply chain and receiving materials on time, as well as the extremely volatile rand-dollar exchange rate, and the increased cost of freight – component availability is now finally returning to normality but everything now carries a COVID -19 freight surcharge, and along with the weakened rand is pushing up prices of everything we procure.”
South Africans are nothing if not resilient and adaptable, so although we can’t know how the world and the country will look after COVID-19, we will get through this, somehow.
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