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?