New Book by one of our Collaborators

Harnessing the Thunder – Civil society’s care and creativity in South Africa’s Covid Storm

By David Harrison, CEO of DG Murray Trust

“Covid-19 amplified the seismic rumblings of South Africa’s divided society. They became part of the thunder of the storm. Out of the limelight and away from corruption scandals, a vast network of civil society organizations mobilized as the pandemic approached. During lockdown, they stepped up to provide food, shelter and personal protective equipment to millions of people whose incomes just stopped. But they did more than that.

They harnessed the thunder, directing attention to people who are usually not seen or heard – compelling the nation to take a long, hard look at itself.”

DR DAVID HARRISON is the CEO of the DG Murray Trust (DGMT), a public innovation fund based in Cape Town. A medical doctor and specialist in public policy, he founded the Health Systems Trust in 1991. He wrote a book Harnessing the Thunder dedicated to the people who work in civil society organisations, who mobilized to protect and support families in distress during the Covid-19 crisis. But they did more than that – they used the crisis to promote change.

Here is a excerpt from the book:

“ By the beginning of June, we were increasingly uneasy about the little progress being made in securing PPE. The country’s infection rate was starting to escalate, and we had hoped to be able to distribute a first consignment to hot spots by the middle of the month. There now seemed to be little prospect of that. With agreement from the Solidarity Fund, we decided to exercise our contractual right to procure all PPE independently, though still hoping that our first order through B4SA would materialise. Fortunately, the ELMA Foundation had also agreed from the start that DGMT could source PPE on its own, which created the space for an ingenious local solution.

The Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company (SNC) is a materials science company that develops and manufactures nanofiber materials using its patented SNC BEST® Ball Electrospinning Technology. Nanofibers are extremely fine fibres used in a wide range of applications, including cosmetics and medicines. They are woven together to create a diaphanous film that can be applied to the skin or, as we were about to discover, as a medical-grade filter in reusable face masks. Once the stringent lockdown was lifted, I visited the factory to see the technology in action. Coated head to foot in protective gear – to prevent me from introducing any germs into the process – I was allowed into the laboratory. Here, a viscous polymer was being siphoned from bottles on the ground into shallow baths. Plastic spheres the size of table tennis balls slowly rotated in the treacle. But the syrup glazing the spheres was not smooth – it was spiky, and the spikes flew upwards like a child’s sparkler until they spun onto a sheet of polyester fabric to form the delicate nanofilter layer. The unseen magic was an electromagnetic field between the spheres and the fabric, which attracted the liquid polymer like fine hair to the static of a woollen cardigan.

The polymer coated fabric was then cut and tailored to insert into the middle pouch of a specially manufactured cloth mask. These mask filters can be sterilised with boiling hot water and reused up to nine times, while the durable cloth masks are washable by hand or machine. The economic and environmental benefits are huge. For instance, assuming the cloth mask lasts three months, the daily cost works out at just one-third of the expense of daily disposable masks; and the waste needing to be dumped at the local landfill or incinerator reduced by 90%. The orders SNC received from DGMT alone saved the importation and disposal of over 10 million single-use masks.”

Go to DGMT website for more info