In Favour of Cooperatives

Nkutšoeu Motsau


Nkutšoeu Motsau (Chairperson of Azanla MVA), writes:
In my previous article I wrote that we can no longer afford to have a tiny group of people owning and controlling the means of livelihood whilst the rest of society is turned into toilers. I also made bold to say that by phasing out companies that were organised along capitalist lines and replacing them with companies organised as cooperatives, we would eliminate corruption. The ink had hardly dried on the paper I had written those words upon when the titanic financial corruption scandal involving, Steinhoff, the giant German multinational furniture manufacturing company, exploded before our eyes right here in South Africa.

It is said that one Jooste (a multibillionaire himself), the CEO of Steinhoff, he has since resigned, used or played with the funds that the people invested in the company in a pyramid-like scheme. The company lost 100 billion Rands in one day. In figures it is something like R100,000,000,000! Its shares in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange fell from R55 a share to R10 a share. The Public Investment Corporation, which is in charge of the pension funds of the Public Servants Association (including the Government Employees Pension Fund, the Unemployment Insurance Fund and others), invested some of the funds in Steinhoff. They lost R12.5 billion, that is, R12,500,000,000! You can imagine lifelong savings going down the drain just like that! But I am not talking about this, at least not now. Let this serve merely to adumbrate my point.

In a cooperative company, the members, who happen to be its workers, have equal say and each has one vote; and the decisions of the company are made democratically. The members meet regularly (say, once weekly) to make decisions about what to produce, how to produce their products or services, where to produce them, how much to pay themselves and what to do with the profits. They hire the manager or CEO and set goals for him/her. The manager or CEO reports directly to them, in a meeting, but may not vote when decisions are taken. They can fire the manager or CEO who does not achieve the goals that have been set for him/her. They determine the salary of the manager or CEO which may not be seven or eight times higher than the salary of the lowest paid members. The members wholly own the company and control it completely.

The members are taught how a cooperative must function before it is established. Once the cooperative is up and running, they are compelled to attend all the meetings of the company and are expected to participate actively in all its activities.

Unlike in a capitalist style company, the manager or CEO does not have a right to hire or fire, instead, the manager or CEO is hired by the members. The decisions of the company are taken democratically by the members and not by the manager or CEO or the board of directors. The members themselves decide about which technology to use to produce their products or services. This decision is not made for them by the manager or CEO or the board of directors. The members decide how to divide the profits among themselves, this decision is not taken by the manager or CEO or the board of directors. The members themselves decide where to invest their money. What happened to Steinhoff is most unlikely to happen in a cooperative company!

How’s that? What’s your take?

‎10 ‎December ‎2017

* The writer of this column, Nkutšoeu Motsau, was born in Top Location in the Vaal Triangle in 1953. He grew up in Sharpeville. He is a tetraplegic as a result of a car accident in July 2005 in Sharpeville and now resides in Cape Town, but still feels a deep rooted connection with the Vaal. Nkutšoeu is Chairperson of Azanla MVA.

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