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International Partnerships

Volkswagen in South Africa – helping fight COVID-19 and protecting employees

The EU’s private sector has been actively contributing to solutions to the COVID crisis in partner countries, alongside the Team Europe public response. Beyond financial contributions to local pandemic funds or other types of financial donation, it has undertaken a wide range of initiatives to provide medical and protection equipment and other health solutions.

In the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, Volkswagen Group South Africa, or VWSA, has been working with local authorities and businesses to fight the pandemic and keep its employees safe.

From plant to hospital

To help the authorities provide much-needed care to Covid-19 patients in Nelson Mandela Bay, VWSA has converted its Port Elizabeth plant, currently out of use, into a temporary medical facility. Once fully operational, the facility will house up to 4 000 patients with Covid-19, including high-acuity patients needing oxygenation.

For the conversion project, VWSA has teamed up with the municipality, local businesses and the Eastern Cape Department of Health. It is putting ZAR 28 million (around €1.4 million) into the project and overseeing the procurement of critical personal protective equipment. Germany’s economic cooperation and development ministry has provided a further €5.2 million in funding for the hospital and equipment.


VWSA has also been working with other local businesses to manufacture ventilators, respirators and masks, and has offered support to local government and business in their coordinated efforts to bolster medical care in the municipality.

As VWSA Chairman and Managing Director Thomas Schäfer puts it, “Solidarity is crucial in a crisis and will give us the position of strength we will need to fight the Covid-19 virus.”


Employee health and safety paramount as production resumes

Meanwhile, VWSA has gradually resumed production at its plant in nearby Uitenhage, also in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality. This comes after a strict lockdown where almost all production in the country was put on hold, with only the supply chain for essential goods and medical supplies kept open. And it marks a welcome return, given the automotive industry’s huge importance to the local and national economy.


Our main priority is to ensure that our employees can work without risking their health.

Thomas Schäfer, Chairman and Managing Director of Volkswagen South Africa

Volkswagen has introduced a 100-point plan for the health and safety of employees around the world. At the Uitenhage site, employees returning to work have received clear information on the new arrangements in place. For additional protection, there is a focus on hygiene and physical distancing practices (including 767 sanitiser dispensers and extensive signage). All employees have received masks and additional protective gear, depending on their work requirements. They have also been issued with electronic thermometers to check their and their loved ones’ temperatures – along with instructions for use, because these are not common household items in South Africa.

“Our main priority is to ensure that our employees can work without risking their health,” says Thomas Schäfer.