Who are we? If we switched off the TV news, put away our phones and unplugged from the Internet, how would we define ourselves? I don’t mean this in a sentimental sense, dripping with 1994 nostalgia. I mean who are we as a people, right here and right now? How do we use what defines us to engage our future?
A Pew Research Center study titled What It Takes to Truly Be ‘One of Us’, released in 2017 on the topic of national identity found that in places such as the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan, it is a common language that is the binding force behind national identity. It was also found that “most Europeans believe that adhering to native customs and traditions is at least somewhat important in defining national identity”.
It doesn’t take a team of researchers to figure that in a country with 11 official languages and many cultural and traditional customs, these definitions of national identity are as effective as a drizzle in the Kalahari.
Yet it is from this diversity that the most unique solutions can be unearthed.
So where do we start? Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.” In part, the problems we face, especially in terms of unemployment, stem from the archaic belief that if you go to school and get good marks you are guaranteed a university degree and then a good job with benefits and a hefty retirement. We are living in a time where a lifelong career in one job or even one industry is not guaranteed. In the era of "slashers", people with multiple, simultaneous jobs, having more than one income stream is not only a privilege but also a socioeconomic imperative. We have to become more than what we believe we can be.
So, in the philosophy of "start where you are, use what you have and do what you can", we find remarkable individuals. Writer Nonkululeko Britton-Masekela shunned the dictates of societal norms imposed on young black women and started her own small-scale farming company in 2016. At the time she was working for Primedia as a content producer while also studying at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. It was during this course “we had to do a case study on a project that would resonate with something that what we were doing as part of our business course”, she explains. The process led her to a meeting with Amon Maluleke, a cricket groundskeeper who also founded a food garden. He shared insights into combating hunger and poverty through growing produce with her.
As Britton-Masekela spent time with Maluleke his wealth of knowledge and the challenges he faced planted a seed in her mind. With guidance, personal drive and a salary cut, she used a part of her father's plot in Midrand to create Kula Organic Produce. Part of the vision was to “educate and share information with the greater community around organically grown vegetables and herbs and how they can help us heal ourselves and how we can grow our own”. Kula is also not just about putting food on the table. Through hosting educational events that focus on a holistic understanding of healthy eating and sustainable farming, they are building a community of people who are not only conscientious about their own well-being but are conscious about their part within the broader society. What is exciting about concepts such as Kula is that they also fit into the lifestyles of those who work 9-5 and enjoy spending weekends at urban markets.
There are, however, very real challenges in agriculture, especially for emerging black farmers. Numerous state initiatives have endeavoured to help the plight of farmers but not many have been effective. One of the obstacles farmers face is getting produce to the consumers. The logistics are costly and favour commercial farmers who are better resourced.
Yet it is from this diversity that the most unique solutions can be unearthed.
That’s the problem that Matthew Piper and Karidas Tshintsholo sought to solve when they created Khula, an app that provides full supply chain solutions for small-scale farmers. The app and its business model was so effective that it was the overall winner of the MTN Business App of the Year for 2018. According to their website, Khula is an ecosystem that works by connecting produce farmers directly to consumers, allowing farmers to share a cold chain in order to keep their produce fresh, access low-cost inputs through group buying and offering a support system of experts and mentors. So far, Khula has more than 2 000 active farmers on its books and has raised more than R600 000 in its pilot phase.
... in the philosophy of "start where you are, use what you have and do what you can", we find remarkable individuals.
But farming is not for everyone. Is there a way in which produce can be processed to create different kinds of products? In 2010 when Portia Mngomezulu started using marula oil to treat her post-pregnancy stretch marks, this humble fruit held the answer. The oil worked so well that she decided to start selling it through sourcing the oil directly from rural women in Limpopo. At the time, selling the products was a side business. In 2011 Mngomezulu established Portia M Skin Solutions and by 2018 she had a 12-product skincare range supplied to Pick n Pay, Checkers and Clicks and had brought in R20 million in sales.
This is a great achievement, for an individual. How do we then come up with ways of creating financial support systems on a broader scale? While unemployment and income equality have left many black people burdened by generational debt cycle, improved financial management of the little resources that they have can go a long way.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of Sundays, when after the post-church lunch, I would accompany my mother to her “society”. It would usually be held in the dining room, always at a different location. There a group of women, usually middle-aged to elderly, would hold a meeting where each one of them hands over money to the one who had a big black, hardcover counter book and she, in turn, would record all amounts under each person’s name. This was a burial "society"; an informal financial scheme that, in the event of the death of a member’s relative, would pay out a lump sum to the family. At a cost of as little as R30 a month, you could rest assured that in the event of a death, all the necessary costs towards a funeral would be covered, despite the fact that you might not even be employed or have any kind of savings.
Such societies came about because black people had been historically shut out of the financial services sector and, as a result, they created their own. Societies are also social affairs where people come together and share meals and laughter.
Younger people have taken to a slightly different kind of society, called a stokvel. A stokvel is a group of people who pool money together for the benefit of each person through the resultant ability to generate large lump sums. Stokvels can vary significantly in terms of scale of money involved and the process of awarding payouts. Some rotate monthly payouts to individual members, some save towards school fees and uniforms, while others focus on home improvement projects or groceries.
According to the National Stokvel Association of South Africa, NASASA, more than 11 million South Africans participate in stokvels. Stokvels generate more than R44 billion a year. This is a significant amount of money considering that it comes from middle to low-income earners who have generated it for the specific purpose of financially empowering themselves. When stokvels are run well, they can yield initiatives such as the Young Women in Business Network’s goal of starting the first Women’s Co-Operative Bank in the country. The brainchild of Nthabelang Likotsi, the project is focused on professionals and entrepreneurs and aims to have 60% black women ownership. To date, they have 420 shareholders who have collectively invested over R4.2 million.
Most stokvels serve the lower class and their systems can be flawed or hindered by financial illiteracy and bad bookkeeping. These challenges entrepreneur Tshepo Moloi aimed to eradicate when he created the Stokfella mobile app. Realising that administration was the fundamental obstacle faced by stokvels, his app aims to help them to make informed financial decisions through a mobile app that is, above all, user-friendly by reducing the number of steps that one is required to take in order to input information. Understanding the market has always been vital in the sense that stokvels cater for young, savvy and mobile adults as well as elderly folk who might not know how to write.
These are only a few examples of individuals who, despite what hashtags and "breaking news" might have us believe, are proving that there are still vast opportunities in our country. What is common for most of these solutions is that they came about not solely because of technological advancements, but through the basic human tenet of connecting with one another. The Fourth Industrial Revolution doesn’t necessarily mean that “the machines are coming” but also that we need to revolutionise how we relate to and with each other. That’s where true wealth resides. That is who we are.
Stokvels generate more than R44 billion a year.