Heritage Day (24 September) is a day which we are all encouraged to celebrate our cultural traditions in the wider context of the great diversity of cultures, beliefs, and traditions that make up the nation of South Africa. Stokvels have been around in South Africa since the 1960s and are definitely part of our heritage. The short history summary of stokvels as we know it, is that there was a phenomenon called stock trading fairs in the late 1800’s where farm workers would pool their resources to be able to buy livestock. This later brought about a culture of group savings as a means of economic emancipation that has been passed down from generation to generation. To date, it is estimated that one in every two black adult South Africans is a member of at least one of the country’s 800 000 stokvels, which rake in an estimated collective total of R50bn a year.
It could be said that, initially, the main purpose of stokvels back in the days, was social camaraderie (companionship), which then developed into a common drive for financial inclusion (yes, it is more than that now, I mean it is its own financial system).
September is Heritage Month, and there can surely be no better time to recognize the power of an age-old African community savings mechanism: the stokvel. Stokvels have been the savings ‘engine room’ for South African communities through apartheid and into democracy, and they remain very effective today. However, this month also prompts the following question – have we truly defined our financial heritage? What could be the modern-day financial product, generated through stokvels, that we can one day celebrate as part of our heritage? I mean the modern day progressive stokvels are making their own history for the future, so we need to come up to answers and solutions to these questions. Many of the informal subsectors of our much talked-about township economy could benefit from financial ubuntu by starting their own initiatives (this is already in progress). Recently I read that the taxi industry started its own initiative, given the success of the stokvel culture, could this be the solution for the taxi industry? I say definitely, I’m of the opinion that there are similar industries where the ‘solution’ for them lie in organizing a similar purchasing mechanism…I wrote a lot about these in my book (Stokvels – How they can make your money work for you) which you can get from Exclusive books, Bargain books and other book stores or by simply clicking here: I also boldly state in the book that South African economy has a ‘secret weapon’ in stokvels and give practical reasons why this statement.
Yes, South Africa’s economy is a mosaic of financial products, with some aligned to the heritage of this country. The R50bn that circulates among black South Africans in stokvels highlights the potential we have to transform the financial sector from the ground up. Capitalizing on stokvels may be the key to kick-starting our financial heritage. And platforms like StokFella have made it possible to capitalize on stokvels, by using modern technology to bring transparency and trust while doing this. This makes modern-day stokvels be nationally and systematically organized to drive social cohesion, increase financial ‘access’ and drive economic activities such as education, housing and entrepreneurship, thereby kick-starting the financial heritage we all long to establish.
Heritage in the stokvel sense is joining forces with friends or family or even people you don’t know (because technology has enabled this) in stokvel groups where members are not always necessarily from the same background, and not being afraid to work together with them through a relationship of trust and due diligence that stokvel groups and potential members adopt. Heritage Day is about celebrating our various cultures and traditions, as well as embracing the diverse languages and religions that are protected by our Constitution. Likewise, the stokvel economy. A lot still need to happen and effected in the stokvel industry to break barriers and be allowable to serve different purposes. But for now, may the stokvel industry continue to progress and transform to being engines of wealth for its members, for the current generation and generations to come, may this be also be part of its heritage.
With that said, stokvels celebrate the heritage of their members automatically and in a true sense, because often stokvel groups consist of multiple members from different cultural backgrounds, embracing diversity while still working together toward achieving a common goal, which involves not only taking the time to understand one another’s differences but also to respect them. The way stokvel members work together to bridge cultural divides all with the aim of achieving a common goal, shows that we can work together as South Africans and build financial security to wealth, together. And that is why we honor you stokvel members this Heritage Day and Month, you are part of our rich and proud heritage. Aluta continua!