Italian Center for Documentation on Cooperation and Social Economy | Virtual museum - South Africa

Virtual Museum
of cooperatives

South Africa

In 1902, the Boers Farmers’ Cooperative was established in South Africa, the first cooperative in the country and the first in all sub-Saharan Africa. Further development was slow, but by 1919 there had been enough to warrant the establishment of the Federated Farmers’ Cooperative Association (again, the first of its type in sub-Saharan Africa) and a year later the Overseas Farmer’s Cooperative Federation, which concluded agreements to ship agricultural produce to the Enghsh Co- operative Wholesale Society. In 1922 the first cooperative law was passed. Modest growth has characterized cooperatives since then for both “Natives” and “Europeans” though, as in other things, the benefits have not flowed equally to the two groups. In the mid-1930s the ILO’s Cooperative Information carried two articles on South Africa’s cooperatives. The first reported the beginnings of credit, consumer and agricultural cooperatives among the “Natives”; the second reported on the fuller development that had taken place among the “Europeans”: 272 societies with 84,815 members. Cooperatives were engaged in consumer supply, crop insurance, marketing, manufacturing, supply, and services. By 1947 cooperatives (“Native” and “European” together) had increased in number and membership, to 376 cooperatives (including 3 cooperative farms) with 254,153 members. Specific note was made of the spread of the movement among “non-Europeans.” Modest growth continued, and the movement further developed through the 1970s with the formation of sectoral unions. At that point information available on developments among cooperatives diminished, reflecting the worldwide campaign mounted against apartheid in South Africa. A 1995 ILO report, Privatization of Cooperative Services in East and Southern Africa, reported the presence of 618 societies, 41 unions and 318.378 members, still less than 1% of the total population of the country. A 1997 report of the ICAreporting for 1992 showed 461 cooperatives with 310,192 members (0.76% of the population) in the following sectors: agriculture—248 societies/with 167,580 members; savings and credit— 10/2,067; and trading—203/140,545. Small as the cooperative movement has been, it will have to go through some dramatic changes in structure and control. Commercial agriculture in South Africa, as in Zimbabwe, has been and still is the province of the whites. The blacks seek land reform and land distribution and are disdainful of existing land ownership and control patterns. Trading, the other major cooperative sector, presents easier opportunities for change and integrated action. Credit unions were introduced first in Cape Townthrough integrated church structures where they had initial success prior to the elimination of apartheid. They are minuscule in penetration of the population, only 0.02% now, but have aspirations to be come a national movement.

Jack Shaffer, Historical Dictionary of the Cooperative Movement, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Lanham, Md., & London 1999.

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