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Surviving, striving and thriving during COVID-19
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 21/08/2020

The Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences celebrated the resilience of women in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic during its first virtual Women's Day event held recently.

The event embraced the theme Coping with COVID-19: Surviving, Striving and Thriving, and was chaired by Public Policy, Finance and Economics professor Tania Ajam. Guest speakers from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds contributed to the event.

In her opening address Prof Pregala Solosh Pillay, Vice-Dean: Social Impact and Transformation, commended women for their reliance and inner strength to accomplish distinctive milestones in the midst of the upheavals and catastrophes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We live in an imperfect world and embrace our imperfections as mothers, single women and career women. We enjoy what we do despite formidable challenges. Our passion brings a renewed energy to make life better and bearable for others."

She praised male figureheads − fathers, sons, brothers, mentors and bosses – for their contribution in helping women.

“We appreciate your support and assistance under very difficult conditions and especially for those of us who have to balance a home and academic life. Showing us your compassion and empathy is the hallmark of your leadership and character," she said.

Pillay also challenged Institutions of higher learning to be more responsible for the progress, health and wellbeing of their staff, and said that more emphasis should be placed on organisational cultures that are supportive of women and women's progress.

Naseeba Jappie, senior medical technologist in the National Health Laboratory Services, relived her traumatising experiences of losing a colleague to the virus and spending eight agonising days in isolation.

“It was the toughest eight days of my life but thankfully my test results came back negative. But losing somebody I worked with to the disease was hard and made me realise that it could so easily have been me," an emotional Jappie said.

Although the constant threat of contamination proved mentally and physically draining for the experienced technologist, she forced herself to keep doing her job “for the people out there who were anxiously waiting on their test results".

Business owner Carin Strydom elaborated on how she dealt with the economic effects of the pandemic-induced lockdown.

She said her petrol station managed to survive because she increased her focus on her staff, customers and suppliers.

“I provided my 44 staff members with vitamins and flu injections to keep them healthy. I was also transparent with them where work hours had to be reduced due to the loss of business.  Where my suppliers are concerned, I've managed to negotiate better credit terms with them. We also made use of social media to stay in contact with our customers."

Although the company recorded some financial losses in the early stages of the lockdown, Strydom said they are now back in the black and did not have to retrench any of their staff.

Malie Ntshangase, principal and owner of Capella House School in Fish Hoek, said the COVID-19 crisis forced her to sharpen her leadership skills and to be more transparent and community focused.

“Though as a school we are always prepared for change, we were not prepared for the challenge of online teaching. We had no idea how it worked. We had to come together as staff to combine our skills to prepare for the online environment.

“We also realised that most of our parents were financially depleted because of the pandemic's impact on jobs. We followed up with them to assess their emotional and financial state and how we can be of use.

“You cannot get through this crisis on your own. You need flexible leadership and a clear understanding of what needs to be done to survive this pandemic."

Najewa Moffat, an office manager at @Heart – a NPO that provides HIV/Aids testing and counselling in the Cape Winelands area – tested positive for the virus in June.

“Dealing with the disease – the loss of smell and taste, the isolation from my mom and daughter – was hard enough, but to be stigmatised because of it was the worst.

“Friends and family that you've known all your life suddenly shun you and discriminate against you. They make you feel like you've been irresponsible when all you did was your job. You become depressed because people are pushing you away and not supporting you.

“It's been a rollercoaster ride, but I still want to help people and educate them about the disease. I still want to make a difference in their lives."

  • Photo:  At the virtual Women's Day event of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences , Prof Solosh Pillay (left), Vice-Dean: Social Impact and Transformation of the Faculty, delivered the opening address, while Professor Tania Ajam of the School of Public Leadership acted as chairperson.