Building vibrant and sustainable co-operative enterprises that stimulate the social economy of the province

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Ms Nombulelo Jonas

In her introduction Ms Jonas spelt out the philosophy guiding her presentation by quoting from the work of Paulo Frere who states that

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

The presentation discussed training approach which is dialogical, that empowers learners by bringing in their lived experiences and make them active participants of the process. Based on progressivism, education has to focus on the whole being not only the content and the teacher. The learner comes in as a problem solver and a thinker not a passive recipient.

From this philosophy the curriculum content should be students’ interest, improve way of life and allow shared decision making. Ms Jonas discussed the approach taken by the Institute which is a pragmatic/praxis approach whose aim is to promote democratic social living. This approach upholds that knowledge leads to growth and development, and focuses on active and relevant learning. The curriculum the addresses human problems and affairs. The subject matter and activities are interdisciplinary, relevant and humanistic.

To achieve its aims, methodological issues of training are adhered to. Firstly, a situational analysis of the target group is done. The pitch in terms of communication is made suitable for the participants. Ms Jonas outlined the methods used which include theory and practical, role play, simulations, experiential learning. The Institute is currently having 3 categories of training namely

  • train-the-trainer

  • train Abakhwezeli, LED officials, councillors, political heads(MPs, portfolio committees),relevant government official and

  • train co-operators.

Ms Jonas indicated that at the moment there is a pilot programme running on the Train-the-trainers category. She also highlighted the training modules on offer which include the following

1. Introduction to Co-operatives – Definition

- Values and Principles

2. Co-operative Governance & Accountability

3. Policy and Legal Framework

4. Conflict Management

5. Financial Management

6. Bookkeeping & Recordkeeping

7. Business Plan Development

In addition to the above generics, technical and sector specific modules like dairy production are being developed.


Prof Gilingwe Mayende
Introducing his presentation Prof Mayende located co-operative development within a broader rural development policy framework. He alluded to the ANC’s Polokwane Resolutions which reads as follows,

“Support the growth of rural market institutions including through the provision of infrastructure and by helping rural communities and small farmers to build organisations which help them to access markets, build links with formal sector value chains and co-ordinate their activities to realise economies of scale.”

  • Such organisations may include producer co-operatives, small holder associations, input supply co-operatives, marketing co-operatives and/or state regulated institutions designed to support and promote market access and collective action amongst small rural producers.

  • Special attention must be given to the empowerment of women in co-operatives.

The Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP) was discussed.

It entails establishment of a Rural Development Agency, which among other things will be responsible for 

  • Establishment of vibrant and sustainable communities characterised by access to productive assets, employment opportunities, modern technology, innovation, self-reliance, indigenous knowledge systems, preservation and transfer of knowledge, effective leadership, and increased savings and investment

  • Focuses on the former homelands

  • Significant reduction of rural poverty and attainment of high levels of food security;

  • Empowerment of vulnerable groups (women, youth, the unemployed and people living with disabilities);

  • Promotion of the establishment of business initiatives, rural agro-industries, co-operatives, cultural initiatives and a vibrant local market; Establish a Rural Development Agency, which among other things will be responsible for

  • Co-ordination

  • Planning and resource mobilisation

  • M&E

  • Reporting systems and accountability

  • Development of a White Paper on Agrarian Transformation, Rural Development and Land Reform

  • Critical stakeholders within government

  • Technical partnerships

  • Strategic partnerships

  • Giyani National Pilot and Provincial Pilots

Prof Mayende, went on to outline the thrust of co-operatives policy in South Africa which highlights the following

  • Adoption of the concept and practice of co-operative organisation across the board by many institutions

  • Anchored on legislative and regulatory frameworks

  • Move from the ANC’s Polokwane Resolutions on co-operatives as a developmental vehicle for communities

  • Efforts to establish co-operatives are an on-going process in the country

  • The DTI’s Baseline Study is highly informative on the way forward

  • A number of success stories that are already emerging

  • Capacity building efforts are being undertaken by various institutions

Commenting on the new thrust on Co-operatives Development Prfo Mayende observed the following:

  • A wide range of government departments such as the DTI, Department of Higher Education, Labour, Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, Social Development, Defence and Military Veterans are actively working towards establishment of co-operatives

  • A number of institutions such as SEDA, NEDLAC, COSATU and many others are also playing a pivotal role

  • National Treasury is working on the Co-operatives Development Agency

  • Existing legislation is being revised to provide inter alia for the establishment of a Co-operatives Development Agency and an apex body that will represent all co-operatives in the country

  • A Co-operatives Training Academy is also on the cards

In his presentation on the role of co-operatives Prof observed that while there are a lot of best practices in Europe and much reference has been made to them, there are many success stories in Africa. He indicated that success stories in Africa and Asia show that, co-operatives;

  • Enable their members to become active and meaningful participants in local and national economies, and they promote socio-economic development

  • They help create employment and the development of human resources as they provide training opportunities for non-skilled and skilled members

  • Provide an organisational framework to deliver cheaply interventions aimed at assisting members to access services such as extension and input supply and facilitate access to financial services

  • Smooth income flow to members through bulk marketing and collective negotiation, collective investment in machinery, as well as promote economies of scale

  • They facilitate expansion of productive activity and diversification to agro-processing and other forms of value addition, and enable the producers to sell in processed form commodities previously sold in raw form very near to the farm gate, which in turn promotes entrepreneurship

  • Ease pressure and over-dependency on the government with regard to provision of housing, healthcare, electrification

  • Enhance family and social values, and promote peace and security within communities by lessening social tensions and discouraging deviant behaviour

  • Promote social cohesion and peer monitoring

Subsequently, Prof Mayende looked at the challenges facing co-operatives in South Africa. These challenges pertain to;

  • Inculcation of a culture and mindset of entrepreneurship

  • Capacity building and skills development: are the training methods we are using effective?

  • How to ensure effective participation by communities and avoid the dominance that is often exercised by prominent individuals

  • How to get local government to interface effectively with the institutions supporting co-operatives and to play a meaningful and effective role

  • A strong co-operative movement would ensure a strong movement towards rural development

  • This would also support the democratisation of the South African economy right down to the village level

  • How do we assist the state bureaucracy to drive the process of creating a strong co-operative movement, through facilitation not prescription?

  • For co-operatives to be transformed into a vibrant co-operative movement located at the centre of developmental processes among communities, a dynamic but not paternalistic relationship needs to be fostered between the developmental state and the producers.

  • Co-operatives are first and foremost organisations which should exist for the purpose of providing opportunities for their members to maximise benefits that they derive from the market goods and services.

  • One major challenge is that the knowledge base on co-operatives in the country is scattered

  • Best practice approaches and stories are not being shared in a significant way

  • How to harness the youth and empower them through co-operatives

  • Low asset resource base among communities

  • Effective funding models that would enable the co-operatives to function properly

  • Incentive schemes for those seeking to establish SMMEs in various sectors

  • Movement away from the current handout mentality and culture of entitlement towards embracing individual contributions to projects

  • CRDP mentions co-operatives but does not effectively locate them in any significant way within the context of its delivery strategy

  • Currently there is a trend where government departments work at breakneck speed to establish co-operatives for compliance and reporting (statistical) purposes

  • Such ‘co-operatives’ are mostly non-functioning structures or committees

  • Government thus needs to develop an effective co-operative system

  • Issues of low asset base, low education and skills among communities need to be addressed

  • The facilitative efforts of government and other agencies should include giving co-operatives the space to evolve on their own and diversify into a range of productive and commercial areas beyond primary production

  • Issues of risk should also be addressed

In addition to these, challenges also manifest in terms of;

  • How to ensure that co-operatives truly operate under conditions of vibrant economic production and exchange rather than subsistence

  • How to provide effective support for co-operatives through extension, provision of purchasing outlets for inputs and markets for their products

  • How to leverage local and international best practice

  • Malawi is the best most recent example, where co-operatives have driven a major turn-around in food production to the extent of moving the country from a net importer to a net exporter of grain

  • Interestingly, Malawi has done this against the advice of the World Bank and its infamous Structural Adjustment Programmes

  • As demonstrated in some African countries, excessive political intervention is detrimental to the effective performance of co-operatives

  • For example when the government of Zambia in the 1990s removed from the apex body representing co-operatives, the ZCF, the responsibility for input supply and marketing, production slumped at a time when it had increased to unprecedented levels;

it picked up again when the government realised its folly and restored these responsibilities to the ZCF

  • In SA the current challenge is not political interference but bureaucratic domination and control of virtually all processes

  • How to develop a beneficiation model that ensures that co-operatives do not develop within the context of pockets of prosperity in a sea of poverty

  • How to inject the type of dynamism that will set co-operatives strongly on a definite path of growth from the primary to tertiary levels

Following the outline of challenges Prof Mayende presented on Co-operatives and the Bottom Up Approach also named the Empowerment Model. In his discussion, he noted the following:

  • A strong co-operative movement will give communities a strong institutional voice to represent their interests effectively vis-à-vis formal structures of government, to challenge and contend/negotiate

  • Right now communities are just told to establish a committee of representatives which in many instances is an amorphous structure not linked to productive activity

  • Lack of empowerment of communities to drive their own development as co-implementers of projects and programmes alongside government

  • The critical element is that communities must become real owners of their development projects

  • How to ensure that the interests of the communities are not left only to their elected representatives at the local and provincial levels, but they also have a strong institutional voice to represent their interests

  • A co-operative movement should be created and sustained by co-operatives not government.

Discussing Training and Capacity –Building Prof Mayende alluded to the Dialogical Approach by Paul Freire. He observed that this methodology has not been pioneered in South Africa. He underlined its importance and appropriateness which lies in its active participatory manner where participants in the training exercise take the lead in generating topics for discussion and the facilitator does not ‘teach’ but steers discussion in an interactive fashion. He highlighted its effectiveness as a very effective method of training and skills development in Latin America and Asia, hence the need for it to be a key feature of community empowerment. He underlined that,

  • Caution needs to be raised on how to develop an effective dialogical model for SA

  • Rigorous research must be the main driver of these initiatives

  • Piloting processes and trial and error

  • Clear understanding of the Brazilian model

  • Massive mobilisation of training providers and institutions

  • Use the new SETA framework that seeks to work closely with FET Colleges and other similar institutions

  • Take proactive steps to develop relationship with Agricultural FETs and Agricultural Colleges around training and capacity building facing these institutions, while at the same time addressing the training challenges of co-operatives

  • This could be one way of addressing the many challenges around capacity

  • Develop a long-term training strategy for the agricultural sector based on AFETs and ACs as main delivery vehicles

  • Build strong relationships with key stakeholders: Organised labour, organised business, organisations representing co-operatives, government departments, AFETs and ACs, various agencies

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