At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, BMW Group made a commitment to help fight the virus on the ground. We hear from members of the Hospital Project team at BMW to get a behind-the-scenes perspective on how a response like this comes together and what it means to them on a personal level.
Ground was broken at the Bronkhorstspruit Hospital east of Pretoria in October 2020. With the summer months and the rainy season in the Highveld fast approaching, there were some decisions to be made. One was to erect the roof as early as possible so construction could continue in spite of the weather. Every build has a timeline, but this one had a serious deadline: to complete an overflow facility at the hospital that could house 150 extra beds before the third COVID-19 wave hit South Africa.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reached our borders, Government called on corporate South Africa to assist in the fight against the virus. To urgently accommodate COVID-19 patients, hospitals and clinics were desperately re-designating beds with the threat of other health services being compromised.
As early as April 2020, BMW Group South Africa was in talks with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit* (GIZ) to secure funding and with the Department of Health to identify key areas in South Africa that would need crucial help with personal protective equipment (PPE) and beds for the influx of patients.
We do not want to just deliver a facility and walk away.
– Ian Louw
Building more than cars
Under the banner of #WeBuildMoreThanJustCars, BMW Group South Africa put together an internal team to run the BMW COVID-19 Project, known amongst the team as the ‘Hospital Project’. Their task has been to build facilities to house 800 extra beds across 9 hospitals and community health clinics, set up 2 COVID-19 screening and testing centres, and procure life-saving PPE. Built from scratch in just 6 months, the Bronkhorstspruit Hospital 150-bed facility was the largest undertaking for the team at BMW and a major milestone.
There can be an impression that corporate companies donate funding and their job is done. For the BMW COVID-19 Project, this wasn’t the case in the slightest. For Bronkhorstspruit Hospital specifically, the team at BMW met weekly with the Department of Health and the hospital CEO, worked closely with the architects and engineers who designed the building, facilitated the tender process to secure the contractor and appointed a dedicated team to oversee every step of the construction and commissioning of the facility. “We were hands-on on the project from the design phase to the construction phase,” says Project Lead Facilities Odelia Naidu. “It really is a joy seeing a project being transformed from paper into a reality and seeing the smiles on the stakeholders’ faces when they could actually walk through the completed facility.”
The BMW team also ensured 93% of the construction was done by local builders and service providers from the community. “For almost 50 years, we have been manufacturing vehicles in Tshwane, and as such, we are part of the community and community members’ lives,” BMW Group South Africa CEO Peter van Binsbergen said at the opening of the facility in early May 2021. “This investment and infrastructure is a clear example of BMW Group’s commitment to our country.”
We’re really not just building cars; we’re building something more.
– Elsabe Louw
After the ribbon’s cut
BMW’s involvement doesn’t end once the doors are open. Ahead of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Project Lead Ian Louw spoke about BMW’s commitment to ensuring that whatever was built was not just an emergency response but was sustainable well into the future. “We do not want to just deliver a facility and walk away,” he said. “We want to ensure it’s utilised and fit for purpose and in the end that our donation is being looked after. The investment is meant to be sustainable, to foster pandemic preparedness at a community level and should guarantee an efficient public health sector delivery on a medium- and a long-term perspective.”
With the new overflow facility at Bronkhorstspruit, the hospital has been officially upgraded from a secondary hospital to a district hospital, meaning more medical staff will be employed there. Additional nurses, doctors and healthcare workers began their contracts at the hospital at the beginning of May. Beyond COVID-19, there are plans to repurpose the ward for surgical, paediatric and mental health services.
When you walk into that space, you feel the enormity of 150 beds’ capacity.
‒ Esti Labuschagne
A personal experience
Learning about corporate investment in the fight against COVID-19 is no doubt positive, but it can feel impersonal. Meanwhile, there are dedicated people whose day-in and day-out is ensuring these projects are realised. It’s not only personal to them, but it’s life-changing for the people who can now receive care. “For me it’s a very personal matter,” says Elsabe Louw, an agile master at BMW. “We’re really not just building cars; we’re building something more. At the end of the day, we could see the difference we were making. It’s something that has left an effect on me long term.”
“When you walk into that space, you feel the enormity of 150 beds’ capacity,” says Esti Labuschagne, a fellow agile master. “150 people who are really in need of medical care can know there will be a bed for them. It’s not just giving to people but working for people and seeing the change just a small gesture can make to a community.”
“It humbled me,” Ian adds. “The fact that people have to go through so much effort in order to have basic needs made me extremely appreciative of the opportunity to make a difference.”
At BMW Group South Africa, #WeBuildMoreThanJustCars is a commitment that will last for many years to come post-pandemic, but it’s the dedicated individuals within the organisation who will make it happen.
As a COVID-19 survivor, seeing the facility being completed brings joy.
– Mbasa Kepe
For Mbasa Kepe, head of Government Relations and External Affairs, what they achieved hits close to home. “As a COVID-19 survivor, seeing the facility being completed brings joy,” he says. “I personally know what it means for people who will be admitted to that facility and for the communities that will benefit from it.”
*The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, otherwise referred to as GIZ, is a German development agency headquartered in Bonn and Eschborn that provides services in the field of international development cooperation and international education work.