Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A study of worker co-operatives in Zululand, South Africa
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Ubuntu has emerged as the new catchword of recent years; it has been adopted by various organisations to depict their culture and spirit. Borrowed from the Zulu dictionary, Augustine Shutte explains that Ubuntu encapsulates the Ancient African axiom of umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which translates into "a person is a person through other persons".

This dictum conveys the values of respect, compassion and humanity to others. Put in a nutshell, it is the idea of working together in order to progress.

The co-operatives in Zululand are the epitome of Ubuntu, for me. It was only after being educated about the nature of these enterprises that I was able to grasp the true essence of Ubuntu.I discovered that a co-operative is a group of people that unite, by pooling their skills and resources, to provide a service or manufacture a product, which is marketed. The surplus of the sales is divided amongst the members, providing many families with their only source of income. I was further informed that co-operatives are based on values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. Co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others, which are similar to the values of Ubuntu. The concept of co-operatives and the location of them are unknown to many; co-operatives have existed for years, but tend to keep a low profile. As a result, there are few studies and very little information on them, especially in South Africa.Clare O’Neill, a senior lecturer in Organisational Psychology at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, has initiated a project to address this issue by providing more information on co-operatives in Kwa-Zulu Natal. She aims to profile co-operative activity and evaluate its institutional structures while assessing the dynamics within these structures. The research will be used to identify factors affecting the success of co-operatives in the province. O’Neill will compare governance strategies and study the impact of the co-operatives on their communities.

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