Walking through the DOOR…

Thank you for the reminder that life is actually beautiful and that every day is an opportunity to learn…

Living Life

Do we ever think about the big role walking through the door plays in our lives? Every morning we walk out to walk about the earth fulfilling our purpose and living out our lives and at the end of the day we come back to rest in our homes for those who are blessed with a place called home. Do we ever stop to think about what it means to walk through that same door every sunrise?

A door has been used to symbolize an opportunity, a closed door represents a closed opportunity or dream. Why is this so? The sheer panic that one gets when they lose the key to open the door is enough to drive one crazy, if you lock yourself out, you get worried about what the door has shut in, when you lock yourself in, you get worried about the opportunities you are missing outside.

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The road less travelled (by millenials)…

It is often said that millenials (the cohort born between 1980 and 1995) are not willing to start at the bottom and help themselves. This article hopes to dispel this myth.

Outside Soshanguve, a large township north of Pretoria, is a very modest market comprising fewer than ten stands and traders. They mostly sell eggs, live chickens, goats and sheep to the public at the busy intersection of Tswaing and Rooiwal. We (TWH Cooperators) had the privilege of spending the morning at the market to get to know some of the informal traders and their stories in a bid to learn more about this sector which contributes 29% to South Africa’s GDP.

We spoke to one of the traders, a young woman called Gadifele Mokone, to find out how she ended up trading. Gadifele, initially reluctant to be interviewed, consented after we explained that her story could inspire thousands of unemployed youth. What makes Gadifele’s story worth telling is that she, like many others in South Africa, battled for years to find a job. Though she successfully completed high school and submitted her CV to countless employers, she never could get a lucky break. Employment for her, as for many young South Africans, remained elusive. Fed up and desperate, she eventually decided to embark on a journey of self-employment.

With a small loan from her grandmother, she bought eggs from the Tshwane market to resell at the informal Soshanguve market. She found this to be quite profitable and to further increase her income she decided to sell live chickens. Over the two years she managed to sustain not only herself, but her entire family and she hasn’t looked back.

Gadifele has big ambitions for her life. She plans on formalising her business to a point where it is not only viable to look after her family; but to expand and create more jobs for others.

Many might see Gadifele’s story as insignificant, and might even have an aversion to trading as a possible tool to self-employment, but if considered against the backdrop of high youth unemployment (at around 63%) and the current job losses in the country, it is refreshing to meet someone who decided to ‘get up, swallow her pride and get on with it’.

South Africa is experiencing a technical recession and thousands of jobs will be shed over the coming months. Life in South Africa is hard, opportunities are scarce, but with a little humility, anyone can make a living and eventually grow a modest enterprise into a substantial business.

We will be keeping tabs on Gadifele and her journey and will report back.


A day in the life of a youth owned cooperative.

Any kind of farming is a leap of faith. Whether you’re a young person setting out, determined to grow things, or a mid-life changer, intent on a less stressful lifestyle, or someone who grew up on a farm who wants simply to continue working in this age-old profession, you know it will be hard and that there will be failures. But that’s true of the best things. The secret is that it is possible to succeed.

Our organisation, TWH Consumer Cooperative, spent a day with a youth owned cooperative in Tarlton township outside Krugersdorp. Like most South African townships, Tarlton is plagued by high unemployment and poverty levels.

We spoke to 31 year old Mr Rapula Mbele, chairperson of the Thusa Farming and Multipurpose Cooperative, on the nature of their business and the future of their cooperative. Thusa Farming is presently mainly operating as an agricultural cooperative. In general, agricultural cooperatives can be classified into three broad categories according to their main activity, namely marketing cooperatives (which may bargain for better prices, handle, process or manufacture, and sell farm products), farm supply cooperatives (which may purchase in volume, manufacture, process or formulate, and distribute farm supplies and inputs such as seed, fertilizer, feed, chemicals, petroleum products, farm equipment, hardware, and building supplies), and service cooperatives (which provide services such as trucking, storage, ginning, grinding, drying, artificial insemination, irrigation, credit, utilities, and insurance).

Thusa Farming started in 2010 with a group of five youth. They run a five-tunnel farming operation planting mainly tomatoes, but once in a while branch out to other  cash crops like sweet potatoes. Through hardwork and sheer determination they have managed to secure regular buyers such as the SPAR in Krugersdorp and the Brandvlei supermarket just across the road.

Though their cooperative has experienced a number of challenges, one being secure electricity, Mr Mbele remains hopeful and resolute that they can achieve great success, expand and employ more youth. He believes that agriculture as a career is often overlooked by young people, which is unfortunate since there are a multitude of opportunities in this sector. His final message (see clip) is that the youth must take up farming and that we need to cultivate a love and appreciation for farming with small children.

Mr Mbele has become a friend of our cooperative, and we look forward to strengthening our relationship with them and stocking our Cooperative Grocery Store with Thusa Farming’s produce.

If you would like to join our cooperative, please send us an email to info@1twh.co.za.







Stop the extraction!


This article places the spotlight on consumer cooperatives.

A consumer cooperative is almost always formed by hundreds of people who live in the same community with the goal of opening and operating a supermarket to supply their food needs. In other words, instead of doing their shopping from e.g. SPAR, Pick n Pay or Checkers, the members of a consumer cooperative buy from their own co-op store, thereby sharing in its profits.

We have a lot of retailers that have since the dawn of democracy entered our black communities to simply extract wealth. They certainly do create a few jobs with every supermarket they open, but they extract far more than they inject into the local economy. Oftentimes they simply put the small family owned shop out of business. Many of these business owners do not even stay in the communities they are milking. The anecdotal monthly salary of R 3 000 per employee is a stark contrast to the billions of rand they are repatriating annually from the black community.

The benefits of having consumer cooperatives are numerous, especially for the black South African nation because of the low economic base it started on post 1994. Firstly, the sharing of annual profits between members of the community will allow the wealth to stay and circulate in the community. Secondly, members will have a say in how the store is run; i.e. which products must be sourced and where they ought to be sourced. Many locals (especially the unemployed) could be given the opportunity to become producers and suppliers of goods sold through the local cooperative stores. Thirdly, hundreds of locals could potentially find employment in these consumer cooperatives thus creating greater prosperity in the community.

Lets take a look at the consumer cooperative movement in parts of Europe. Residents in European villages, small towns, suburbs and cities fiercely protect their local economies from extraction by capitalists. Millions have over the years organised themselves into consumer cooperatives owning thousands of supermarkets allowing them to buy from themselves, support local producers and farmers and sharing in the surplus annually. Here are a few examples of European consumer cooperatives:

  • In Denmark the largest cooperative grocery store is Super Brugsen which has 1 200 stores owned by over 1.4 million consumers.
  • The largest consumer cooperative in Switzerland has 2 213 shops owned by over 2.5 million customers.
  • In Finland, S- ryhmä  or the S-Group, has a membership of over 1.4 million individuals which represents over 62% of Finnish households.
  • In the UK, millions of people have come together to form over 2 800 cooperative grocery stores

If consumer cooperatives are formed in every village, township and suburb, endless opportunities could be opened for millions of black people as either producers, suppliers or employees. South Africa could give birth to thousands of new black industrialists producing new brands of coffee, tomato sauce, canned foods, maize products, cleaning detergents and so forth.

Is it not time that South African villages, townships and suburbs start organising cooperative owned grocery stores and start turning this expense into income?

Every village and township needs a Cooperative Bank.

There are unbelievable advantages when large groups of people come together to save and invest money. Communities have been organising themselves together since ancient times to acquire assets and start businesses.

A case in point is people of Indian descent (Indian and Pakistani nationals). It is well known that they tend to stay together in large numbers in one home to consolidate their wealth and start businesses. When going to a new country, it is not unusual or uncommon to find a group of about 10 people staying in one house or apartment and saving their financial resources till they can start a business. The arrangement will continue until all of them have anchored themselves financially, ultimately resulting in economic domination in their chosen areas.

Another group that managed to self-organise successfully is the esteemed Afrikaner nation of South Africa. The Anglo Boer war, which started in 1899 and ended in 1902, completely devastated the Afrikaner nation. Many women and children died in terrible conditions in concentration camps set up by the British. To make matters worse, several were left financially vulnerable and outright poor by the war. To turn around their fate would require extraordinary discipline, tactical skill and moral purpose. It required strength in numbers to improve their financial fortunes. One of the leaders that emerged and played a key role is Joseph Jacobus Bosman. His visionary leadership led to the formation of the Volkskas Cooperative Bank circa 1934. The Bank started as a Cooperative Bank, but very soon evolved into one of the most trusted financial institutions until it was amalgamated into the Absa Group in the 90’s.

Cooperative/community banking is a form of banking where communities come together to pool their savings to strengthen their individual and collective financial standing. People who want to start a cooperative bank must share a common bond which could be geographical, work based or associational. Examples of a common bond are that members must either stay in the same area, or they must all be working for the same employer or be a part of the same association (i.e. unions, churches, sports bodies and so forth).

A cooperative bank differs from retail bank in many respects. Firstly, retail banks have a pure profit motive whereas a cooperative bank is run by members for the benefit of members. Secondly, there is a large element of trust between the members of a cooperative bank. When a member requires a loan, others would be able to vouch on his/her character. This is contrary to the large retail banks that only look at affordability and the records kept by the credit bureaux in order to grant you a loan. Interest rate charges against loans taken out from a well-run and resourced cooperative bank or CFI (Cooperative Financial Institution) are also far lower than that of retail banks or micro lenders. Anecdotal and empirical evidence abound of members of cooperative banks or CFIs obtaining loans at very competitive rates to buy land, equipment and cars compared to had they taken these loans from retail banks. A case in point is how a CFI in Centurion offered one of its members a loan to buy a vehicle. The interest rate was so low that the repayment to the CFI was only 3 years as opposed to 5 years that it would have taken through normal retail bank vehicle financing.

In addition to the easy way of getting credit and the very low interest rates that members pay back, other benefits include:

  • Getting a higher interest rate from your savings compared to retail banks
  • Knowing that your money is safe. The cooperative banking sector is regulated by credible entities such as the CBDA (Cooperative Bank Development Agency)
  • Education and counselling on how cooperative banks work

The reasons consumers benefit immensely from progressive cooperatives are simple; firstly cooperatives are run by members for the benefit of members, secondly, they do not pay exorbitant salaries and bonuses to staff and lastly, cooperatives exist purely for the benefit of helping members.

It is unfortunate that there are currently only about 20 CFIs and only about 2 cooperative banks in South Africa. This shows that a large number of consumers are missing out on the benefits that only a cooperative bank/financial institution provide.

You are urged to visit these agencies websites to find out whether there is a CFI/cooperative bank in their local community and join or establish one immediately.


What is a Cooperative?

JamesTruter_2017-02-18-07-21-41Very few South Africans are knowledgeable about the cooperative form of business.

Many young men and women under the age of 40 have never heard the term cooperative. This is not surprising considering our schooling system does not teach about this form of business. Yet, this is the only form of business that will create an order of magnitude change in the lives of millions of South Africans. On the contrary, the cooperative form of business has a very long history in developed countries.

I will not attempt to write an A to Z account of cooperatives. There are several reputable organisations that have produced excellent literature on cooperatives. One such organisation is the International Co-operative Alliance, whose content can be accessed on their website http://ica.coop/. There are also countless books, magazines and online publications available to the reader to gain further insights; a simple google search will expose a mountain of information.

The South African Co-operatives Act No 14 of 20051 defines a cooperative as ‘…an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic and social needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise organised and operated on co-operative principles.’

It is a form of business where a number of people who either work for the same organisation, live in the same neighbourhood or belong to the same association come together to form an enterprise for their common economic, social and other needs. It is a form of business that is fully owned and controlled by its members. From funeral care to vehicle insurance, from grocery stores to property development, cooperatives come in all shapes and sizes and across different sectors. Worldwide, cooperatives are owned by workers, farmers, taxi drivers, residents, ordinary consumers and businesses.

Members of cooperatives believe in self-help, self-reliance, self-responsibility, democracy, equality and social responsibility. Cooperatives make up an economy that considers social justice to be just as important as the pursuit of profit. Contrary to a commercial enterprise, the cooperative enterprise does not maximise shareholder value or returns in proportion to capital contributed, but gives benefits to members in proportion to transactions done with the cooperative. It is an enterprise that gives its members ownership and control.

(Extract from chapter 3 of my book: A new vision for South Africa, Release date: 22 July 2017)



Cooperatives: The cure for South Africa’s problems

James_267945152South Africa is plagued by problems of high inequality, unemployment and poverty.

Many have offered solutions on how these problems can be solved, very few voices have considered the dramatic impact that Cooperatives can have on our economic landscape. Many of our rural poor, township poor and peri urbanites will be pleasantly surprised at the transformative power of Cooperatives in their economies. Thousands of jobs and new wealth can be created once communities organise into cooperatives for food production, food processing, retail, funeral care, insurance and cooperative banking.

The South African government has various programs in place to assist communities with economic transformation through the co-op. Agencies such as the NYDA, DTI and the GEP to name a few are playing a remarkable role in facilitating change. It is time that our communities really tap into these structures.

(This picture was taken at the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec, 2016. I was invited as a Panellist on discussing ‘Access to capital for Cooperatives’.)

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