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BTB 53: COVID-19 Lockdown South Africa

Gary Olsen reports on the realities of the logging business in South Africa the era of COVID in the new Between the Branches feature, 'From the Field'.
SOS Contractors 1075C handover taken at Karkloof, KwaZulu-Natal. (L-R) Neels Potgieter, SOS Contractors harvesting manager; Kobus van Staden, SOS Contractors harvesting technician; John Barbour, AfrEquip technical manager.

SOS Contractors 1075C handover taken at Karkloof, KwaZulu-Natal. (L-R) Neels Potgieter, SOS Contractors harvesting manager; Kobus van Staden, SOS Contractors harvesting technician; John Barbour, AfrEquip technical manager.


March 27 marked the first day of a very harsh lockdown in South Africa. The Level-5 lockdown consisted of strict rules as we all experienced globally but with a nasty twist – no sales of tobacco products or liquor. Without any warning, it was all shut down, but luckily it would only be for three weeks, and then this nightmare would be behind us, and we could carry on life as usual, or so we thought.

Fortunately, forestry was deemed an essential service. So, our customers and our dealer AfrEquip were able to continue with operations, albeit under stringent conditions and protocols. For AfrEquip, only essential, technical-related travel was allowed to support the customers. Schools and non-essential businesses were shut down. Households were filled nearly twenty-four-seven, putting everyone’s patience to the ultimate test. Mine grew from a regular two adults and three dogs to four adults and five dogs overnight!


 Eddie Barnard, AfrEquip field technician; John Barbour, AfrEquip technical manager; Brendan Moore, AfrEquip business development manager; Mark Venter, AfrEquip area manager in front of 604E skidder.

Bostek 604E handover taken at Barberton, Mpumalanga. (L-R) Eddie Barnard, AfrEquip field technician; John Barbour, AfrEquip technical manager; Brendan Moore, AfrEquip business development manager; Mark Venter, AfrEquip area manager.


Our customers’ most significant challenge was bringing the workforce to and from the job site while adhering to social distancing restrictions. As a result, mechanized operations were ramped up over manual or semi-mechanized operations to reduce the number of people required at the workplace. During this time, AfrEquip managed to deliver several machines to new customers and placed new orders to the Tigercat factory. It was very encouraging that despite renewed erosion of the rand against the US dollar, and all of the other business uncertainty related to the pandemic, contractors were not only working but confident to purchase new machines.


1075C forwarder loading.

SOS Contractors’ operators getting some practice in on the new 1075C forwarder in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands area.


Three weeks transpired, and liquor inventory levels were starting to run low in the Olsen household. Then disaster struck when the President announced another four weeks of Level 5 lockdown. Other irrational bans were instituted, such as no retail sales of summer clothing, open shoes, or appliances. After shutting down hair salons and barbershops, the sale of all hair care products was banned. We could buy a can of food, but not a can opener. COVID-19 lockdown policies flip-flopped throughout the summer until August 17, when some semblance of normality returned to the country and the local economy. However, the situation remains uncertain as daily data is watched closely and rumour-driven panic buying episodes have occurred.

Getting through the lockdowns has been a much greater mental challenge than a physical one. One certainty is that creative thinking and problem solving on the part of AfrEquip and the customer base allowed tree harvesting to continue throughout.


Gary is based in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and is Tigercat’s international sales manager for the southern hemisphere.


 

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