Voice of America (Washington, DC)

South Africa: Businesses Allowing Mourning Time

Johannesburg — Many South African retailers will close their doors on Sunday, as the country lays its beloved leader Nelson Mandela to rest in Qunu, his ancestral home. During the 10 days of mourning for the former president, some companies have also allowed employees time off to pay respects at various memorials around the country. Employees and analysts alike say the time off and closures are good business.

Jacques Bakker went to the home of the late former president Nelson Mandela, along with four co-workers on Monday morning. His company, Galileo Capital, surprised its employees when they'd arrived at work, giving them a chance to mourn.

"We just came to the office today," he said. "We didn't know that this has been arranged. So we got to the office and they said to us they've arranged a taxi, and they'll be taking us in a couple of batches of people to come pay our respects and just see the memorial to Mr. Nelson Mandela."

Bakker says it was a great feeling to have his company and boss make that effort.

"I think it's fantastic that he created this opportunity for us," said Bakker. "It just adds a little more value to your company. It just brings a little more ethics through to the company, as well."

As the nation has made its way through a 10-day period of mourning, many businesses have followed suit.

Anita Vandenberg, who works for JD Group, which owns more than a dozen retail businesses in South Africa, stopped by Mandela's home on Monday on her lunch break.

She said her company was allowing stores to close from 11 - 3 on Tuesday so that employees could watch the official memorial at the FNB sports stadium in Johannesburg - broadcast internationally and on public screens throughout the country.

"I wanted to take my laptop and sit in the canteen and watch the memorial service and now we've been given the time to do that without having to worry about work," said Vandenberg. "So it definitely gives you the feeling of being engaged and feeling like they respect this very special time and the emotions that we have."

Major retailers such as Woolworth's, Shoprite, Massmart and stores within the JD Group will shut down Sunday for Nelson Mandela's funeral.

Jean Pierre Verster, an analyst at 36One Asset Management, says the economic effect of closing for the funeral is negligible.

"I don't foresee that this week's worth of mourning should have a material impact on the economy... So I think the retailers in terms of the employers have been quite clever in doing something that has a very significant gesture of goodwill attached to it, but does not have a meaningful economic impact," said Verster.

He says there aren't many figures whose deaths would lead to such closures.

"Because of Mandela's stature and his importance for the country and the whole nation," said Verster. "I think there is a special need to be sensitive for the issue, to have respect for cultural tradition regarding the process of mourning. Therefore I think it's the right thing to do."

Closures weren't the only gesture of mourning from businesses. Many have taken out ads in national papers, and put up billboards paying respect to the anti-apartheid icon.

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