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Designing our own economy

Dec 12 2012 07:33 *Adriaan Bester

(Supplied)

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A YEAR of test driving alternative economic tactics to balance my personal double entry accounting system, and I am still learning new tricks in the last few days of 2012.

From sweaty cycles between appointments, shorter shower songs, homegrown herbs and cash back coupons at my supermarket; I thought I tried them all.

The more I discover, the more I realised the system needs an overhaul. It cannot rely solely on the lonely journey of a cyclist seeking karma between meetings and a balanced life.

A recent visit to a friend’s house in Philippi near Cape Town’s airport reminded me of the emotional value of networking – and how it can translate into bricks and mortar. Literally.

After years of living on the same spot, my friend qualified for a basic government-supported house, which comes, as you know, with only a few standard items: walls, doors, windows, a toilet and a roof.

She works hard. She is loved by her family, employers and importantly, her community. And here lays a key part of the secret.

With the help of her stokvel, my friend has been able to turn her basic house into a very happy home. She added a few rooms, expanded her kitchen (she’s a famous cook in my circles) and stretched her lounge by a few extra inches.

While the money from the stokvel is interest free, her part does not end at laying the last brick to her extended walls: not for her stokvel duties, nor for her future dreams of expanding her home.

She continues to pay into the system, for an agreed time, ensuring other stokvel-approved plans of fellow members are also achieved. On their turn, the stokvel sends an inspection delegation to ensure money is used for its intended purpose.

For items the stokvel do not cover, she asks other people in her circle - employers (she works for different people on different days) and other friends - to help her to save towards the things that will add make her life more comfortable: a new fridge, a ceiling, a proper stove, a solar geyser, tiles...

It is never a loan. She shares her plans with enthusiasm and then works out how it can be achieved.

On her bumpy public transport ride, 28 kilometers away from her workplace, she writes her ideas in a little book, listens to a church service on her mobile phone that connects to a radio station, and thinks of her children at home.

Recently, after another mugging she endured while walking to the train station, I suggested a saving towards a bicycle. She just squealed with laughter.

With her dreams of a better future, immense talent and a smile the size of our coastline, my friend has worked out a few economic survival tools long before it became the fashionable thing for us urban dwellers to do.

In her way, she too understands that the world as we knew it – before the shine of original capitalism faded – does not exist anymore. She never really benefited from that either.

We are both keen to explore the benefits of a new capitalism that is constructive, as suggested by Umair Haque (2011, Harvard Business Review Press) in The New Capitalist Manifesto.

In our next adventure to add to her earnings, we are talking about cooking and baking up a Cape storm (minus the winds) in her community.

These are all new to us, but somehow we are designing a new micro economy that pays the bills.

*On Twitter, Adriaan reveals his #XolisaTellsMe conversations with his friend as he tweets them from @aiBesterThe views expressed are his own.


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