#DAY32LOCKDOWNSA FREEDOM DAY 2020: From political freedom to suffering from a pandemic by Dr Marius Meyer (MHRP)

SABPP Lockdown Blogs-62South Africans achieved political freedom on 27 April 1994 when our first democratic election was held to formally end the previous political system of apartheid. Since then we have celebrated Freedom Day every year. The world praised South Africa for achieving freedom in such a peaceful manner and this success story was often referred to as the “miracle of the rainbow nation” with one of the best Constitutions in the world.  As a country we have achieved some successes in taking our nation forward, but today with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is as if we are entering yet another period of extreme pain, suffering, and increased levels of poverty, economic demise and a hopeless future.  In 1994 we were voting in long queues celebrating our democracy, today we stand in short queues at shops fearing that we may be infected by the next person in the queue.  With the exception of funerals, all public gatherings have been cancelled and we are legally forced to stay home safely.

The Father of Democracy in South African Nelson Mandela said:  “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  Now in 2020 as we face the coronavirus pandemic, our individual and collective response requires us to respect and enhance the freedom of others by not spreading the virus to them.   In addition to several other challenges facing our democracy, this question is a central issue for us celebrating Freedom Day while being in a lockdown.  However, even during these difficult days, weeks and months of the pandemic and extended lockdown facing us as a nation, in many ways our freedom as a people has been limited. Not being allowed to move around, to visit friends and family, to attend a religious event and to go to work for non-essential workers, are all inconvenient but necessary regulations to curb the spread of the virus, while our freedom of movement and interactions has been restricted.  Thousands of people have been arrested for non-compliance to the Disaster Management Act regulations and more thousands of people will lose their jobs and income.  Moreover, the rights of some people were violated when treated in inhumane ways by law enforcement officers in townships and other places.

Reflecting on Freedom Day also provides us with an opportunity to assess our progress as a free democratic nation. It is 26 years later from our first Freedom Day and it is now clear that the majority of South Africans only achieved freedom in theory.  Yes, black South Africans have freedom – they can go to schools of their choice, apply for all types of jobs, buy houses wherever they want, and so forth. The “freedoms” are there, at least on paper. But as we have seen time and time again, while human rights may be in place in principle, it is more difficult to realise in practice.  For instance, in theory a black South African family can buy a house anywhere, but if they can’t afford to buy a house in a more expensive neighbourhood, remaining in the township may be the only viable option over the short and medium term, and for many the only option over the long term.  Thus, while the theoretical discourse is freedom, the perpetuation of poverty, unemployment and inequality is the practical reality for most black South Africans.

The question arises: Was 27 April 1994 only freedom in theory, while practical freedom remains an elusive dream for most South Africans?  The realities below paint a picture of a country in need of a new type of freedom:

  • We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the world (29%) and one of the highest youth unemployment (50%+), ironically almost all of these young unemployed were born since 1994 in the post-apartheid era. This high unemployment rate could double as a result of mass retrenchments and the destruction of businesses and the economy by the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The World Bank confirmed that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world with the highest gap between the rich and the poor. The levels of poverty have again been amplified during the Covid-19 crisis and it was very sad to hear cabinet ministers stating that the virus exposed the levels of poverty, as if we did not know that it existed.
  • While the black middle class is growing, and despite the good intentions of the Employment Equity Act and other transformation laws and programmes, the rate of transformation in the private sector in particular is too slow.
  • The poor education provided in the majority of schools exacerbates current inequalities. At top private schools and good government schools, education continued and children adapted very quickly to online learning from their homes. The majority of disadvantaged black school children were further marginalised at their homes or shacks in townships and rural areas with limited access to resources, teaching and family support and capacity for online learning.
  • Poor service delivery by municipalities, provincial and other government departments affect the poorest of the poor more severely than the privileged sectors of society.

I can go on and on and quote statistics building on the above five points. But rather, let us shift our thinking and energy from statistics to actions in finding solutions.  And yes, while fraud, corruption, under-resourced schools and white privilege all exacerbate the current problems, today I want to add my voice to the voiceless and ask for the four major stakeholders in society to step up in accelerating all efforts in achieving real, meaningful and sustainable freedom for all:

  1. Government and its institutions must create an environment for growth, build a capable state and execute all its programmes more effectively.
  2. Business must come to the party in creating freedom in the workplace and society at large with meaningful programmes delivering impact;
  3. Labour needs to ensure that its unique role is leveraged in repositioning labour as a powerful force in creating a more productive and equal society;
  4. Civil society has an important role in mobilising citizens in organised and co-ordinated projects advancing freedom and equality in society at large.

Interestingly, now with the coronavirus crisis, there are good signs and many visible examples of these four parties starting to actively work together in tacking the devastating impact of the pandemic.  All parties have made huge sacrifices such as accepting salary cuts, creating funding mechanisms and relief funds, and collaborating in assisting the poor to survive this difficult period and these efforts must be intensified. Having said that, this is only a short term solution.  The sooner we can resume economic activity, the better, and the relaxation of the lockdown level from level five to four is a good step in the right direction, but it is still not sufficient in getting the economy going, bearing in mind that we also need to deal with South Africa’s downgrading to junk status.  Extraordinary efforts will be required to deal with the twin problems of Covid-19 and junk status in a lockdown economy.  We now need a radical shift towards e-commerce and embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in creating a digital driven robotics economy leveraging the full power of technology integrated with meaningful opportunities for humans to thrive from different locations.  Massive skills development programmes will be needed to retrain the South African workforce for the 4IR economy.

While it is indeed a fact that the National Development Plan (NDP) has been developed quite some time ago, we have to face reality again by admitting that there is nothing wrong with our theory (the NDP), but we again failed in practice, i.e. its execution, hence the perpetuation of unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality.   Perhaps we now need a new NDP for the health sector, i.e. a National Diseases Plan addressing all diseases and health issues.  Although 87 people have already died from the Covid-19 virus, a total of 5000 people die every month of tuberculosis in South Africa.  Other illnesses and health risks also require national programmes, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, malaria, hypertension and obesity.  South Africa is already a world leader in HIV/AIDS management, and we can also become a world leader in Covid-19 management if we can manage and control the epidemic in our country.

All four of the above institutions have achieved major successes, albeit in the form of pockets of excellence.   Even in responding to the Covid-19 crisis, government has delivered exceptional levels of service delivery not seen over the past 26 years.  Water was delivered to areas in need within days, thousands of food parcels distributed and other services provided where needed. The World Health Organization has praised South Africa’s efforts in fighting the coronavirus.  In addition, South Africa’s stimulus package of R 500 billion is the third highest as a percentage of GDP in the world, clearly demonstrating government’s commitment to support people financially during the crisis.

Now is the time to replicate these pockets of excellence into well-managed projects that deliver impact.  However, we cannot make that happen if we stay on a general level four lockdown as a nation for too long.  We now need to kick-start the economy by moving to lower levels of lockdown as soon as possible, without compromising the health and safety of our citizens.   Our individual and collected effort to make this happen will be tested.

Getting through the pandemic in addressing all the challenges and problems associated with it, will only happen if we are disciplined and can execute better, in other words converting our great theories into practice with real and meaningful actions making a difference to society. We do not have the option of procrastinating on our problems. While the pandemic requires our immediate response, we need to tackle unemployment, inequality, corruption, poor education, poverty and poor service delivery in a focused, dynamic and integrated way.  If we as a nation and government are committed to achieve socio-economic freedom for all people, we also need daily dashboards from the responsible ministers on how much progress we are making in tackling these serious issues threatening our hard-earned democracy.

It is my hope and dream that President Ramaphosa’s vision as encapsulated in his “new dawn,” and “send me” slogans will be converted to clear practical actions making a difference in winning the war against the virus and all our other major challenges outlined above. There will be days in which we will feel helpless and hopeless. There are times when it appears as if the “new dawn” was derailed.  But the goodwill and commitment from most people will inspire us to keep on focusing on the bigger picture and the actions needed to address this socio-economic tragedy.  The irony of the different lockdown phases is that the number of infections and deaths will determine the alert level of lockdown at a provincial and district level.  In other words, our past freedom of movement has to be limited to prevent the spread of the virus, in addition to a new national culture of safety, health and hygiene behaviours being embedded in our homes, workplaces and other public places.  This means that behaviour has become the most important factor in determining the level of risk and freedom you will experience.  This situation is likely to continue for the rest of the year, or longer if we don’t get the situation under control.

We also need to bear in mind that our essential workers continue to work on Freedom Day and they have been working throughout the level five lockdown period and will continue to work as we progress to lower levels of lockdown in the near future. Their health is at risk by being at work, and that means that they have less freedom than the rest of us staying at home today.  It is essential that government and business invest their energy and resources in ensuring that all healthcare workers and other essential service workers get tested for the virus.  It does not make sense to test non-essential workers at employers with 500 employees, while essential workers continue to work without being tested for Covid-19.   If we then continue with mass testing, thousands of employees will test positive and go on sick leave.  This provides an opportunity to mobilise our huge pool of unemployed people to be employed as temporary replacements, provided that the necessary safety and hygiene protocols be followed at all sites.

Non-essential workers returning to work in May will have less freedom in the workplace. There will be strict safety protocols and it will feel as if your freedom of movement is restricted.  All of us will have to learn to be patient with this new emergency regulations, but we must realise that we are doing this to protect one another and to prevent the spread of the virus.  From a freedom perspective, we are changing our behaviour to allow our businesses to be opened and to stay open. Put differently, you will acquire temporary freedom to go to work, but this freedom will be withdrawn if we don’t maintain our safety levels and we will simply revert back to level five of lockdown.  At home, we will continue with the curfew and other regulations being implemented from the 1st of May.

Freedom Day 2020 is totally different to the previous 25 Freedom Days.  We have less freedom being in lockdown, but for a very specific reason and that is to fight the coronavirus in regaining freedom for all.   During this process of working towards achieving health freedom for all, we also need to tackle the other areas lagging behind such as poverty, inequality and unemployment. Let us all work together in converting our science into practice and advance real freedom for all in the workplace, our homes and society at large.

In his Freedom Day speech President Cyril Ramaphosa challenged us to unite in “solidarity and triumph of the human spirit in these challenging times.”    He said: “This Freedom Day, let us stand united against the disease. Let us also stand united against poverty, inequality and hunger.  We can only overcome this crisis and rebuild our shattered economy if we work together.” This challenge requires us to address the paradox of being isolated from others and still being connected to other people in continuing with our work while curbing the spread of the Covid-19 virus. As Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng asserted this morning: “Freedom Day under lockdown helps me remember that circumstances are radically different to that they used to be before the dawn of democracy.”   We live in a different world requiring new ways of thinking and doing in achieving real freedom for all South Africans.


Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information about the coronavirus and Covid-19 visit  www.sacoronavirus.co.za

#DAY31LOCKDOWNSA THE POWER OF ONE: Covid-19 virus moving into the workplace by Dr Marius Meyer (MHRP)

SABPP Lockdown Blogs-61On Friday I spoke to a healthcare worker over the phone who told me that her workplace is safe from the Covid-19 virus because they have taken all precautions to prevent the virus from entering their premises. I immediately thought: How on earth can she be so confident that the virus is not in her health centre?  I then reminded her that none of us are immune to the virus and that thousands of medical doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers and support staff have already died all over the world and that several health systems are overwhelmed to cope with the increase in hospital patients.  I was surprised that she was surprised by my answer. What this shows me is that there is still a very long way to go to create sufficient awareness about how viruses spread in general, and how the Covid-19 virus specifically spreads given the fact that scientists have not yet found a treatment or vaccine.

What we need to understand is that you need only one person for a virus to enter a building or public place. That one person infects the next person, and so it starts spreading from person to person.  Times Live reports that ninety-nine staff at a single Cape Town factory have tested positive for Covid-19 and the site was subsequently closed down last week by the Department of Employment and Labour.  Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline factory in Epping was forced to suspend all production and operations until safety measures were improved.  However, the company deserves some recognition for testing all their staff, and from 1 May all companies with more than 500 staff members must do the same.  The company’s Human Resource Manager in the Western Cape, Natasha Carnow states on Times Live: “We are committed to supporting these staff currently who are in isolation, including providing essential food and medical supplies as well as full pay.”   The Department of Employment and Labour spokesperson Candice van Reenen said a prohibition notice has been issued because GSK has been “found to be in contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety Act”.  She added: “They did not have a risk assessment in place that spoke to Covid-19 regulations, they did not have adequate sanitising, they did not have adequate personal protective equipment for staff.”  If this is the case at a pharmaceutical company who should have a far better awareness about viruses than other companies, we must get ourselves ready for mass infections at workplaces from May, ironically as we move from relaxing the national alert level from Level 5 to Level 4.

The risk-adjusted strategy announced by President Ramaphosa makes it clear that we are still in level 5 this week, while moving to level 4 on 1 May.  In her presentation to the media on 25 April, Minister of Co-operative Governance, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the five levels of the risk-adjusted strategy envisage three systems of implementation:

System 1: An alert system to determine the level of restrictions in place nationally, in provinces and in districts.

System 2: An industry classification for readiness to return at teach level based on criteria, together with restrictions that should remain after the lockdown regardless of the alert level.

System 3: Enhanced public health and social distancing arrangements at workplaces and public spaces (including schools and universities).

In accordance with the System 1 classification, the Minister emphasised the reality of different alert levels for different provinces and districts based on the risk profile of that area. For instance, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban are at a much higher risk than smaller towns with lower numbers of inflections.  Likewise, the Western Cape, Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal and Eastern Cape are at much higher risk than the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.  But even this situation could change if the virus is spread across provinces, hence the continuation of travel bans across provinces.

Regarding system 2, the focus is on industry classification to return at each alert level.  Thus, different sectors are affected in different ways in terms of certain criteria such as the risk of transmission.   For instance, as outlined by the Minister, initially when entering level 4 in May, returning to work will be based on the national and district level, enabling workplaces to adapt to the level of infection and healthcare readiness in their locality.

System 3 focuses on a comprehensive system of public health and social-distancing arrangements, covering areas such as the following:

  • Industries are encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible, and all staff who can work remotely must be allowed to do so.
  • Workers above the age of 60, as well as workers with comorbidities, should be offered a work-from-home option or remain on leave after engagement with employers and the UIF.
  • Workplace protocols to be put in place that would include diseases surveillance and prevention of the spread of the infection, disabling contact biometric systems or making them Covid-proof.

Minister Dlamini-Zuma further outlined explicit conditions of return to the workplace based on a sector-specific focus.  Companies must not lose sight of the fact that generally applicable health and safety protocols should anyway be in place in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  Now each sector must agree upon a Covid-19 prevention and mitigation plan, approved by the Minister of Health and any other Minister relevant to the sector. For example, the mining minister will approve the mining sector prevention and mitigation plan.  Moving then from sector to specific companies, individual businesses or workplaces, in other words, all sites, must conduct worker education on Covid-19 and protection measures such as the following:

  • Identification and protection of vulnerable employees;
  • Safe transport of employees;
  • Screening of employees on entering the workplace;
  • Prevention of viral spread in the workplace;
  • Hand sanitisers and face masks;
  • Cleaning of surfaces and shared equipment;
  • Good ventilation;
  • Shift arrangements and canteen controls;
  • Managing sick employees.


Robust monitoring systems must be in place to ensure compliance with safety protocols and identify infections among employees. Government must be commended for utilising a risk management approach for dealing with the coronavirus epidemic in South Africa.  Having said that, Minister Ebrahim Patel, the Minister of Trade and Industry indicated that government is committed to stakeholder engagement and requested inputs regarding the impact of the risk-adjusted strategy on the different economic sectors.  He indicated that the easing of the lockdown will open the gates to about 1,5 million workers.  However, while the World Health Organisation has praised South Africa’s efforts in fighting the coronavirus, and despite the good risk-adjusted strategy, details regarding is full implementation is not clear to all sectors.  It is evident that different sectors and workplaces interpret the regulations differently. For instance, some old age homes still allow people to eat together, while others have ceased this practice in full compliance to the Disaster Management Act regulations. Some retailers are very strict in terms of sanitising protocols, while others are more relaxed. We are likely to see similar discrepancies and inconsistencies in non-essential services resuming business activities from next week.

The Covid-19 virus is already very prevalent and has spread among employees in sectors providing essential services such as hospitals, retailers and factories producing essential products.  From May, if we don’t follow the above guidelines strictly and take all steps to prevent the spread of the virus, the virus will now move from essential services to non-essential services.  If that happens, companies will be closed down until being allowed to open again.

As Bryce Courtenay asserted: “The power of one is the power to believe in yourself. It is the power to believe in yourself often well beyond any latent ability previously demonstrated. The mind is the athlete, the body is simply the means it uses.”  The Covid-19 virus follows the same philosophy, and it is using people as athletes moving around from person to person.   One person brought the virus to South Africa, and that one person spread the virus to the next person, and after today we should reach 4 500 people being infected and officially diagnosed and reported in South Africa.  The real infection rate is much higher than that while intensified screening and testing continues.

The power of one also means that you have a voice.  Minister Patel yesterday acknowledged that government is listening and responding to comments on social media.  Moreover, he invited sectors to submit their comments by 27 April.   You have more power than you think, you can influence the Minister and other ministers with their lockdown level 4 decision-making.

We now need all of us to believe in ourselves.  Each individual has the power of one. You need to believe in your own power to prevent the spread of the virus.   Most of us have done very well in stopping the spread of the virus during the level 5 lockdown by staying at home.  We are all in this together and we all need to work together in preventing the further spread of the virus.  But our own beliefs and behaviour will determine whether the virus moves to your company and its customers from next month if and when you are allowed to return to work.  This makes you a very powerful person. You can spread the virus, or you can stop it.  That decision is yours, and you don’t need to wait for the 1st of May to take that decision. You can take the decision today. You are the power of one.


Dr Marius Meyer (MHRP) lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information about the coronavirus and Covid-19 visit  www.sacoronavirus.co.za

#DAY30LOCKDOWNSA WORK SITES DURING LOCKDOWN LEVEL 4: The need for rapid organisation culture change by Dr Marius Meyer (MHRP)

SABPP Lockdown Blogs-60On 25  April Minister of Corporate Governance, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma explained the new regulations pertaining to the transition from the level 5 lockdown to level 4 on 1 May.  She made one profound statement: “We need to change the culture of the workplace.“  She then announced a number of far reaching regulations that are available on the government website, as well as the dedicated coronavirus website www.sacoronavirus.co.za

Some of these changes mean that we will have to change our behaviour and actions in the workplace. Safety is now priority number one.  As a friendly nation, most South Africans would in the past greet you in a very friendly way, i.e. with a handshake or a hug, especially when meeting a person you have not seen for some time, or when a birthday or achievement is celebrated at work.  Minister Dlamini-Zuma summed it up in this way: “Touching is a thing of the past.”  She then warned that companies will open under strict safety conditions from May, but if people are infected by the Covid-19 virus at work, the company will be closed.  Moreover, she suggested that if our behaviour does not change, we will simply move back to level 5 at a national level, i.e. the highest level of strict measures.

According to traditional organisation behaviour theory, it takes a long time to change the culture of an organisation.  Let us first consider the essence of organisation culture, before suggesting ways of creating a culture of hygiene and prevention. But what exactly is organisation culture?  It is the way in which things are done in an organisation.  Organisation culture is the heart and soul of an organisation.  It is the heart and soul because it is inside the organisation, but it is intangible because you can’t see it, although you can feel it. Organisation culture is what you don’t see, but you know it is there. In that way it is very similar to the Covid-19 virus – you know it is there, but you can’t see it.  It includes the intangible aspects of the business – often the unwritten features of an organisation until when an organisation achieves a high level of maturity.  Under the new Covid-19 workplace dispensation al these rules must be written up and strictly enforced.

Fortunately we do have a few good examples of top companies in South Africa that have managed to change their organisation cultures. There are two main types of organisation cultures that we have seen evolving over the past twenty years in South Africa:

  1. High performance cultures – these are companies that have managed to change from traditional or mediocre ways of doing things to become high performing world-class companies;
  2. Compliance cultures – these are companies and sometimes a whole sector such as mining or banking that have managed to create a strong risk, governance and compliance culture with the aim of following acceptable levels of compliance to laws, rules, codes and standards as suggested by the Companies Act and the King IV Code of Corporate Governance.

We are now in a situation requiring a rapid compliance culture first, followed by a performance culture when normal business activity can resume when we reach level 1 of the risk-adjusted strategy of government.  In other words, we need to comply with all the new safety and hygiene regulations in the workplace, and we need to put strict measures in place in a very short period of time.

We can draw on our past performance of good compliance, and the banking and mining sectors can guide us in other economic sectors on how to achieve compliance in a short period of time. For example, for more than twenty years, very strong safety cultures have been created and maintained in the mining industry, while robust compliance systems and cultures are in place in financial firms such as banking and insurance companies. The difference now is that we need to change our organisation cultures in a very short period of time.

Top performing companies have managed to excel in their business performance by creating high performance cultures in explicit ways, and specifically mobilising their employees towards superior performance. However, these efforts did not happen automatically, they were careful and purposefully orchestrated by management teams with clear goals of creating and maintaining high performance cultures.  In the past, extensive consultation took place to make this happen.  Companies now do not have the luxury of long periods of consultation. In a disaster management dispensation, things change on a regular basis and not all rules make sense to all people.  The model has to be fast and robust. Form groups of people and expert groups, develop plans, and execute.

The following guidelines can be used by management teams to change organisation culture for the new compliance-driven disaster management dispensation:

  • Dynamic and innovative leaders play a positive leadership role to drive a disaster management and safety plan, with hygiene and prevention at the top of the agenda.
  • Assemble a team of high-level experts to accelerate the rate of decision-making and change, and build a group of change agents who will execute quickly and inspire others to follow.
  • Management visibility is key in regular organisation-wide conversations about the Covid-19 virus and the response of the organisation.
  • Set clear Covid-19 goals for the business.
  • Cascade overall organisational goals on Covid-19 to divisions and departments affecting all sites.
  • Ensure consistent compliance at all sites.
  • Mobilise teams and individuals to drive and achieve safety goals and targets.
  • Identify and remove all obstacles to compliance.
  • Arrange regular conversations in the business about the Covid-19 virus.
  • Create an environment in which employees support one another in driving Covid-19 compliance.
  • Reward and celebrate exceptional performance in inspiring ways with formal and informal appreciation and recognition programmes and interventions linked to Covid-19 milestones.
  • Do not tolerate any form of non-compliance.
  • Guide, coach and train managers as leaders and people managers so that they are able to fulfil the role of organisation culture change champions.
  • Have regular and visible results and compliance feedback sessions, e.g. by using and sharing Covid-19 scorecards or dashboards.
  • Develop a comprehensive communication campaign and communicate important information on a daily basis.
  • Invest in people development, learning, training and coaching around compliance improvement initiatives. Replicate or adapt the Minister of Health’s daily scorecard, i.e. number of infections, number of recoveries, number of deaths.
  • Use change management approaches and methodologies to embed a Covid-19 prevention and risk management culture in the organisation.
  • Transform meetings into compliance planning sessions in which all participants contribute optimally to planning and compliance. Make Covid-19 the first item of all meetings.
  • Continuously remind staff of the change in behaviour expected.
  • Prevent stigmatisation of Covid-19 infected staff members by communicating the correct facts and information.
  • Acquire the necessary protective equipment and resources and make them visible in the business.
  • Invest significantly in employee health and wellness in positioning the company as a caring and compliant employer.

The creation of a new compliance culture focusing on hygiene and safety will be of utmost importance. Leadership will have to be more visible than before. Regular podcasts and videos should be shared by the top leaders of the company. Create quick wins and momentum in terms of 100% commitment to compliance, but then use these first successes to build a people-driven health culture in the organisation.

Covid-19 in the level 4 period will not be business as usual.  It is also important to guard against an unbalanced organisation culture, i.e. if performance is driven at all cost to make up for lost production during the lockdown, including threatening the lives of employees and customers, it is likely to backfire with major backlashes and reputational damage to the business.  Hence, the need for an explicit organisation culture people strategy focusing on creating a compliance and risk culture will be of paramount importance. Ultimately, an organisation culture and Covid-19 strategy and management plan is needed to ensure that a compliance organisation culture is infused to create an environment conducive to ensuring that the company is allowed to continue doing business. This will depend on leadership and compliance by all leaders, followed by the co-operation of all employees in changing the culture of the organisation.


Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information about the coronavirus and Covid-19 visit  www.sacoronavirus.co.za

#DAY29LOCKDOWNSA RETURNING TO WORK: A new safety and hygiene regime – by Dr Marius Meyer (MHRP)


SABPP Lockdown Blogs-58

On 23 April President Ramaphosa announced that the National Command Council have decided to implement a five level risk framework in responding to the Covid-19 virus crisis. This framework has been developed after extensive consultation with various stakeholders, including the scientific community.

The five levels risk framework indicated by the President are as follows:

Alert level 1:  Most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times;

Alert level 2: Physical distancing and restrictions on leisure and social activities to prevent a resurgence of the virus;

Alert level 3:  Restrictions on many activities, including at workplaces and socially, to address a high risk of transmission;

Alert level 4: Extreme precautions to limit community transmission and outbreaks, while allowing some activity to resume;

Alert level 5:  Drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus and save lives.

We were also informed that we are now at level 5 and that we are planning to move to level 4.  What this means is that government is implementing a risk adjusted strategy through which they take a deliberate and cautions approach to the easing of current lockdown restrictions.  However, these changes will be phased in and could differ based on the sector, province, district or city.  In other words, we are not merely jumping from one level to the next automatically and relax all current measures in place.   As Minister of Co-operative Governance, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stated earlier in the week: “We cannot open the flood gates at once.”

The President emphasised the importance of workplace safety in his message to the nation.  As of 1 May every business allowed to open will have to adhere to strict and detailed health and safety protocols to protect their employees, and workplace plans will be put in place to enable diseases surveillance and prevent the spread of infection.

All over the country workplaces have been affected by the virus.  Hundreds of healthcare workers, police officers and retail staff members have already been infected and sites have been closed.  This morning, Gauteng Premier David Makhura confirmed that 44 government officials have tested positive for Covid-19 in the province.  The spread of the virus is so rapid and unpredictable that the Western Cape is now the new epicentre of the Coronavirus.  The President also made it clear that even as we begin to ease some of the lockdown measures, restrictions on large and high-risk gatherings will remain in place to ensure the rate of coronavirus infections does not increase too rapidly.   We need to be mindful of the fact that we are still at level 5 until the end of the month. Even if we move to level 4 in May, we may return to level 5 if things get worse. The Covid-19 virus is spread by people, not calendars.

What is evident is that not all employees will be allowed to return to work immediately.  In fact, the President made it clear that people who can work from home must continue to do so.  Fortunately, we now have a strong pool of “working from home” champions who are ready to continue working from home, and they will welcome opportunities to legally walk around and get some exercise under the new regulations.  However, returning to work does not mean business as usual. Many employees are very excited to return to work, but they must realise that things will be different.

We are ushering in a new era of occupational hygiene, building on 35 days of personal experience at home. Therefore, ironically, your home environment has prepared you for the new work environment.  It is of utmost importance for employers to step up significantly in adding occupational hygiene to their corporate agenda.  Failing to do so would constitute non-compliance to the Disaster Management Act regulations, as well as the Occupational Health and Safety Act, despite a dispensation of relaxed requirements.  The mass deployment of further defence force personnel has a clear purpose and that is to support the police in enforcing the amended regulations.

At a company level, 10 key short-term priorities will need to be planned and implemented:

  • Setting up a governance structure to lead the process of occupational hygiene;
  • Creating a budget for adding occupational hygiene to your current safety risk and compliance portfolio;
  • Amending your workplace safety policy to make hygiene prominent;
  • Developing specific procedures regarding hygiene in the workplace;
  • Training of key staff, i.e. safety officers and safety representatives and cleaning staff;
  • Awareness training for all staff (put them on a compulsory online programme);
  • Acquiring safety and protective equipment for the workplace;
  • Redesigning of occupational work spaces to promote hygiene and social distancing;
  • Increased monitoring and control capacity;
  • Regular reporting on occupational hygiene and safety.

Specific details will be announced by the Minister of Employment and Labour, Mr Thulas Nxesi next week. HR Managers, Safety Managers, Risk Managers and Compliance Managers will be required to develop all the necessary plans for approval and announcement by top management at companies.

Once all the above actions have been prioritised, in addition to the new compliance regulations issued by the Minister of Employment and Labour, you can integrate all this work into an overarching employee health and wellness strategy.  An overall wellness strategy should ensure that you do not neglect other health and wellness issues such as financial well-being, stress, anxiety, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, obesity, hypertension and cancer. Over the medium- to long term, it is critical to ensure that employee health becomes a top business priority and that all health issues are addressed to promote employee wellness not only within organisations, but also at a national level.

The International Labor Organisation says that the health and safety of our communities and the resilience of our businesses depends on how we protect our workers from Covid-19. Thus, we are entering a new regime of occupational safety and hygiene at the top of the business and government agenda.  Workplaces will be at different levels of readiness, but most organisations will have major development work to do.  It will require a change in mind-set, new hygiene programmes and interventions, and changed behaviour from managers and employees.  As the President concluded last night:  “There is no person who doesn’t want to return to work. There is no student who does not want to return to their studies. Yet, we are all called upon, at some time in our lives, to make great sacrifices for our own future and for the future of others.”

Dr Marius Meyer (MHRP) lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information about the coronavirus and Covid-19 visit  www.sacoronavirus.co.za

World Safety and Health Day 2017 Theme: Optimise the collection and use of OSH data


World Safety and Health Day 2017 Theme: Optimise the collection and use of OSH data
by Lathasha Subban

Every day, 6,300 people die as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases – more than 2.3 million deaths per year. 317 million accidents occur on the job annually; many of these resulting in extended absences from work. The human cost of this daily adversity is vast and the economic burden of poor occupational safety and health practices is estimated at 4 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product each year.
Source: http://www.un.org/en/events/safeworkday/

The annual campaign for safety and health is to create awareness within areas of work where health and safety compliance is a high risk. This year the theme focuses on the “critical need for countries to improve their capacity to collect and utilise reliable occupational safety and health (OSH) data.”[1]

The SABPP supports the initiatives of the campaign to promote health and safety, and the utilisation of accurate data to improve capacity and promote decent work within industries and countries. The importance of health and safety within industries like mining, agriculture and manufacturing is critical in terms of work productivity and risk. The negligence of compliance to health and safety standards will lead to devastating consequences and even loss of life.

Companies must ensure that the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act No 181 of 1993, is upheld to “ provide for the health and safety of persons at work and the health and safety of persons in connection with the use of plant and machinery; the protection of persons other than persons at work against hazards to health and safety arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work; to establish an advisory council for the occupational health and safety; and to provide for matter connected therewith.”[2]

The celebration of the day is to further ensure that the right to a safe and healthy working environment is respected and implemented within all sectors. The organisation is responsible to ensure that conducive healthy and safe work environments are provided for employees. Employees themselves are responsible to ensure that the standard of health and safety is sustained. Health and saftey is a partnership between employer and employee.


Celebrate World Safety and Health Day 2017 with compliance, awareness and zero tolerance to risk when it comes to health and safety.

This article was written by Lathasha Subban Head: Knowledge and Innovation of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) with contributions from Marius Meyer, CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).   For more information, you can follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 or visit their website on www.sabpp.co.za


[1]  http://www.un.org/en/events/safeworkday/

[2] http://www.labour.gov.za/DOL/downloads/legislation/acts/occupational-health-and-safety/amendments/Amended%20Act%20-%20Occupational%20Health%20and%20Safety.pdf


Freedom Day 2017


Freedom Day 2017
by Lathasha Subban

South Africa, the land of the free, of the equal and of democracy. “Freedom Day on 27 April is an annual celebration of South Africa’s first non-racial democratic elections of 1994. It is significant because it marks the end of over three hundred years of colonialism, segregation and white minority rule and the establishment of a new democratic government led by Nelson Mandela and a new state subject to a new constitution.”[1]

Imagine in the time of disruption in technology, economic uncertainty, political upheavals and slow transformation, we can still hold onto our freedom. When we look back at the circumstances that imprisoned freedom, we should embrace the gratitude that we are have risen above the apartheid circumstances and live as free individuals and citizens of a powerful nation.

“With the enactment of apartheid laws in 1948, racial discrimination was institutionalized. Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of “white-only” jobs. In 1950, the Population Registration Act required that all South Africans be racially classified into one of three categories: white, black (African), or colored (of mixed decent). The coloured category included major subgroups of Indians and Asians. Classification into these categories was based on appearance, social acceptance, and descent.”
Source: http://www-cs-students.stanford.edu/~cale/cs201/apartheid.hist.html

Pre-1994 were categorized according to our race and colour, today we celebrate the freedom of diversity, being different and inertly recognised as human beings with equal rights. Freedom Day is about our identity as South Africans, and it celebrates our uniqueness and it reminds us of our ability to persevere as nation in always standing firm to honour our democracy.

The SABPP supports and encourages democracy, equal rights and non-discrimination. As the HR professional body in South Africa, it acknowledges the uniqueness of our Constitution, by recognising the principles and spirit it was written in. It advocates for the profession to lead their portfolios in fair practice and support transformation. HR protects the human resources of the organisation like the Constitution protects the citizens of this country.

In honour freedom HR professionals should:

  • Create awareness around issues of discrimination: race, sex, gender, disability etc. The SABPP has taken the pledge against racism of any kind. It was signed by members and staff alike.
  • Drive programmes that create understanding and solutions to challenges around “freedom of speech, discrimination, unfairness” etc.
  • Change the vocabulary of the organisation by advocating for equality and fairness rather than discrimination.
  • Be innovative in leading the workforce in recognising and appreciating the uniqueness of their colleagues.
  • Create events that drive collaboration and team spirit of the workforce like sporting events etc.
  • Inform the organisation with articles and papers.
  • Be honest and fair in your approach, by protecting the human rights of the employees and including them in your plan.

Freedom Day should not be taken for granted. Though we have been empowered to live “free”, we still face many oppressive circumstances. The delivery by government on housing and health care is still pending. Education is not standardised and youth face the difficulty with access to higher education and jobs. The access to water and sanitation is not optimal, and many of our fellow South Africans face their daily lives without proper sanitation and drinking water.

Considering the above “Freedom” needs more support. Celebrate Freedom Day with the spirit of gratitude and the vision to uphold its value in our country. Be a part of the greatness by creating solutions that change lives and free souls. Freedom Day is for us to remember the sacrifice to achieve our “free” status and to endure the journey to uphold it.

Happy Freedom Day!


This article was written by Lathasha Subban Head: Knowledge and Innovation of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) with contributions from Marius Meyer, CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).   For more information, you can follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 or visit their website on www.sabpp.co.za

[1] http://www.gov.za/speeches/freedom-day-2016

2017 HR Voice & Fact Sheet Portal


February 2017:

HR Voice – 2017: A Year of Disruption & Change
Fact Sheet – Modern Slavery: Essential Insights for the Human Resource Profession

March 2017:

HR Voice – Diversity, Transformation & Inclusion
Fact Sheet – Pension Law for Employers

April 2017:

HR Voice – The New Home of SABPP
Fact Sheet – The Game Changer: Role of HR

May 2017: 

HR Voice – The Time For Leadership Has Arrived
Fact Sheet – HR Governance


HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2017: A sacrifice for democracy


HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2017: A sacrifice for democracy
By Lathasha Subban

South Africa in the 1960’s witnessed many incidents that protested against apartheid and racism. The fight for human dignity, equality and basic recognition as a human being was ongoing and in many instances ended up in tragedy.

“Human Rights Day is a national day that is commemorated annually on 21 March to remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa.” Source: http://www.gov.za/human-rights-day-2015

The 21st March 1960, where the townships of Sharpeville and Langa embarked on a protest against pass laws, ended in tragedy as 69 protestors were shot and killed by apartheid policemen. This tragedy become famously known as the “Sharpeville Massacre”. As dark was the time, the deaths of these human beings shone light on the apartheid government’s violation of human rights, not just within South Africa but to the entire world.

South Africa has journeyed forward away from such darkness’s to the light of democracy, equality, liberation and freedom. Though still facing many a challenge, the country protects its citizens through its Constitution, which is a powerful and strong shield. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has the role as the “national human rights institution mandated by South Africa’s Constitution to protect, promote, and monitor human rights in the country. Furthermore, the SAHRC has a mandate to investigate, report, facilitate redress where applicable, carry out research, and educate on human rights.

The SAHRC was established in 1995, and is a chapter 9 institution. Chapter 9 institutions are mandated by South Africa’s constitution and are mandated to guard constitutional democracy.”[1] The SAHRC is there to ensure that our constitutional rights are upheld and maintained.

[1] http://www.sahrc.org.za/files/Human%20Rights%20in%20Community%20Protests.pdf

The Constitution for the Republic of South Africa, 1996
These rights include:

Equality – everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

Human dignity – everyone has inherent dignity and have their dignity respected and protected.

Freedom of movement and residence – everyone has a right to freedom of movement and to reside anywhere in the country.

Language and culture – everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice.

Life – everyone has the right to life.

Source: http://www.gov.za/documents/constitution/constitution-republic-south-africa-1996-1

Though we focus on human rights within South Africa, history has revealed that human rights were fought in many eras and in many countries. Dating as far back from 3000 years ago, when religious texts “emphasized the importance of equality, dignity and responsibility to help others originate from the Hindu Vedas, Agamas and Upanishads; Judaic text the Torah; 2,500 years ago, Buddhist Tripitaka and A guttara-Nikaya and Confucianist Analects, Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning, 2,000 years ago, Christian New Testament, and 600 years later, Islamic Qur’an,”[2] to current times when we advocate for human rights that are violated through modern slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and child labour to name a few. Countries have ensured that human rights are protected through their legislation and encourages practice of equality, respect of human dignity and fairness through guiding principles and texts.

[2] http://www.globalissues.org/article/154/a-chronology-of-the-global-human-rights-struggle

The United Nations (UN) is exemplary of a global institution advocating of human rights, with its Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the influential role creating awareness by and advising businesses on their obligations to address any adverse human rights impacts caused through their operations.



The SABPP has recently produced a fact sheet on Modern Slavery that advocates for the preservation of human rights and how it can be identified within the workplace. Our preoccupation as South African HR professionals with the implementation of transformational employment legislation aimed at redressing the human development impediments of apartheid presents the risk that human rights issues which attract a higher profile in other countries, yet requiring our attention, pass us by.

But consider for just a moment the chocolate wrapper in your waste bin (and the child labour possibly involved in harvesting the chocolate’s cocoa content), the sparkling sheen of your car’s metallic paint or your glamour-look eye shadow (both achieved using the mineral mica, known to be mined in some regions by victims of debt bondage), the many other minerals mined in conflict regions, then used in countries known for the prevalence of forced migrant labour to manufacture the electronic components of your mobile phone.

The truth is that modern slavery exists to some or other extent in both our personal and our business supply chains. This growing phenomenon has implications for organisations that are concerned with their sustained success in a world that increasingly demands that businesses take responsibility for their direct and indirect human rights impacts.

32.pngThe SABPP Anti-Racism Pledge

In March 2016, the SABPP in partnership with Mindcor, launched their stand against racism. During a time when racist remarks were frequenting the social media platforms, the SABPP supported human rights by encouraging their members to stand up against racism. As the HR professional body of South Africa, “Racism stops with me.” Awareness starts with individuals, and its business awareness starts with HR driving it.

Human resources share the “Human” aspect of human rights. The commonality is not by coincidence, but by design and association. HR is the custodian of “human” resources and thereby responsible in ensuring protection of those “human” resources rights. HR is responsible to guide and lead the business to practice respect of culture, diversity and race; tolerance in each individual’s uniqueness; fairness in behaviour, thinking and decision making; and recognition of human dignity for one another.

In the words of former President Nelson Mandela, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Many humanitarians have lived their lives fighting for human rights. They never gave up on trying, on persevering, on creating awareness, attempting to change minds and behavior; so why should we not carry on?

Human Rights Day in South Africa is the day we as South Africans carry on with the fight for human rights; persevere to achieve fairness, equality and respect; and not standing down under until every trace of violations against human rights has disappeared. May you celebrate Human Rights Day with dignity, pride, freedom, equality and respect.


This article was written by Lathasha Subban, Head: Knowledge and Innovation of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).  For more information on the article or fact sheet/s, you can contact Ms Subban on lathasha@sabpp.co.za

Follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 or visit their website on www.sabpp.co.za


Quote of the Week by Marius Meyer

23 January 2017


“First do the small things well if you want to do great things.”

People often pursue big projects or initiatives that are complex and strategic in its scope, design and implementation. Therefore, they are often overwhelmed when things get too big or when things go wrong. I have learned that all great things start with small things. For instance, you cannot write a 10 page report for management if you cannot do a good 1 page letter for a client. You cannot arrange a meeting for 30 people if you cannot do one for 10 people first. Get the basics right first. Do the small things well. Not only does if give you a quick win, it helps you to build your confidence and stretch yourself towards greater, more complex and more significant tasks and achievements. Work towards greatness by achieving success in small things first. You are as good as your last task, no matter how small that task was. Do it well and then move to greater things.

By Marius Meyer, CEO SABPP.