Since lockdown came into effect on 26th March, South Africans have been asking a rather important question – what qualifies as an essential good?

We’re not talking about the list published by government as that list is rather clear but it is somewhat lacking.

We’re talking specifically about technology and whether South Africans will be able to purchase electronics during lockdown. A quick look around online seems to answer that question with a negative.

Despite being able to sell and deliver essential goods, Takealot had to rework its entire website to lockdown the sale of goods which aren’t classified as essential by government.

But last week we learned that local online retailer, Wootware, was open for business.

Like many, we questioned whether a GPU could be considered an essential good but as we continued to consider it, we came to the conclusion that yes, in some instances a GPU could be an essential good.

How? Take for instance the various researchers currently plugging COVID-19 data into systems for analysis. Many big computational tasks these days are running on GPUs and being unable to purchase a replacement during lockdown could be problematic.

Bringing the matter a bit closer to home. For those working remotely right now, if your router packs up and stops working, what do you do?

Of course, Wootware wasn’t simply granted a license to operate, it had to do a bit of legwork.

We spoke with Wootware founder, Rory Magee, about how the retailer managed to keep operating despite none of the government regulations noting tech or PC components as an essential good.

“Having shopped at Checkers recently, and having bought a clothes horse from them, I think it’s near-impossible to perfectly parcel out which products may or may not be essential within a given catalogue, without having the full context for use,” explains Magee.

“Context matters. More than this, I think any business that is operating with license during this shutdown should be ready to prove that their having done business during this time was a net benefit to the country’s safety and security,” the founder adds.

While Magee’s opinion is just that, his opinion, we do tend to agree with his thinking.

For example, me playing games at home needing a new router is not essential, but the journalist in the field who just had their smartphone smashed by an over-zealous SANDF soldier needs a smartphone to continue providing an essential service.

It’s important to note that Wootware has received a license to operate during the lockdown period. It has also contacted multiple sources within the Department of Trade and Industry as well as within government to ensure it is operating in a compliant manner.

“We do absolutely believe that computer components, notebooks and their accessories are essential products,” says Magee and we do tend to agree.

So as to allay fears, Magee also detailed the safety precautions Wootware is taking while operating during this time.

“We’ve undertaken rigorous safety procedures, to ensure that we’re operating at what I would consider personally (my own opinion) at a level of cleanliness and safety, that would rival top-class hospital standards,” says Magee.

“However, I’d still recommend that customers receive their parcels through a drop-off, and that they fully wash their hands, after opening and disposing of the outer cardboard box,” added the founder.

On that note we highly recommend the video below which explains how to sanitise products from the outside world when you bring them into your home.

As Magee points out, essential is a matter of context, but given how reliant we have become on technology not just for entertainment, but for educational and professional applications as well, we’d argue that technology is an essential good.

After all, what good does providing access to reliable information do if folks can’t even access it because tech isn’t seen as an essential good.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]