Enabling Support or Dependent Development?

Over the past ten years cooperative development and movement building has happened under a cloud of policy uncertainty. Beyond the rhetoric of cooperative support, cooperatives emerging in poor communities have failed in many places due to the absence of state responsiveness or inappropriate state support and the lack of leadership from within the cooperative movement. With the new Cooperatives Act being passed in 2005, a national policy in place, provincial growth and development strategies echoing support for cooperative development the context and support environment for cooperative development in South Africa is about to be changed dramatically.

This study – the part II of a research agenda – builds on the quantitative research COPAC did in 2005 in which we mapped the cooperative sector in Gauteng province. This study focuses more closely on cooperative support relationships and experiences. It attempts to provide an overview of cooperative support institutions that have been engaging in the Gauteng Cooperative Sector and also attempts to highlight the role of newly emerging support and development institutions.

The objectives of this study are three fold:

First, COPAC works with a conception of cooperative support which is consistent with international standards and which is essentially about ensuring that the identity and independence of cooperatives are not undermined by state intervention and market liberalisation. To this extent, cooperative support has to be enabling by all role players operating in a cooperative sector and should not foster negative relations with cooperatives. This study attempts to understand the kinds of support relationships that have evolved in the cooperative sector in Gauteng province to highlight lessons that could inform the new and emerging support environment.

Second, this study is meant to help cooperatives and role-players understand how the cooperative support environment is working. It is meant to highlight the mandates, roles, intervention programs and capacities of various institutions – government and non government – that are attempting to provide support for the development of cooperatives.

Third, this study is meant to fill an information gap at the grassroots level. Many cooperatives on the ground do not understand or know about the opportunities that exist to secure cooperative support for training, for finance and general technical advice. It is hoped this study would empower co-operators and cooperatives with information to problem solve such that greater sustainability can be achieved. Ultimately, it is hoped that this study could serve as a cooperative movement building resource and stimulate effective movement building from below.

In trying to pursue these objectives COPAC has conducted case studies of relevant government departments, government linked institutions, non governmental organisations and cooperative movement institutions engaged in cooperative support activity within the Gauteng cooperative sector. In addition, primary cooperative experiences of support relationships and practices are critically scrutinised.

We conclude this report with lessons learned and recommendations that could inform cooperative support relationships in the next phase of post-apartheid cooperative development.