Co-operatives in South Africa and Beyond

The state of co-ops in South Africa has changed drastically since the early 1900s. Initially white agricultural co-ops received support from the state, both legislative and financial. The 1912 Land Settlement Act, 1913 and 1936 Land Acts, Co-operatives Societies Acts of 1922 and 1939 and many more all served to support these co-ops. Yet it is important to note that these co-ops did not adhere to the seven Principles of the International Co-operative Alliance and were mere extensions of successive white nationalist governments (The Department of Trade and Industry, 2012). State support for agricultural co-ops before the fall of apartheid was substantial. This resulted in agricultural co-ops making up more than 70% of co-ops. This dominance has however subsided in post-Apartheid South Africa with the co-op sector diversifying due to further legislation supported by the ANC government (Ibid). Between 1994 and 2009 the number of registered co-ops, grew from 1 444 to 22 619. However this growth can be misleading. According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) only 2644 of these co-ops can be considered operational. The most successful of these sectors is the housing co-ops sector, with 32% of the co-ops being operational.

The state of worker co-ops has historically been poor in South Africa. At the end of apartheid, worker co-ops made up a negligible number of co-ops in the country. By 2003 worker members earned an average of R133 a month from their co-ops (Philip, 2003). The greatest barrier to the success for these co-ops has largely been due to a lack of access to capital, credit, skill and market share (Phillip, 2007).

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