Address by the Chancellor of the University of Zululand, Mr Jacob Zuma, at the Gala Dinner of the First International Co-Operatives Conference, Kwazulu Natal, 24 February 2009, Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre, Durban

The Premier of Kwa Zulu-Natal

Mr. Sibusiso Ndebele

MEC for Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Zweli Mkhize

University of Zululand Vice-chancellor Prof Rachel Gumbi

Distinguished delegates from our sister countries in the continent

Ladies and gentlemen

It is an honour and a privilege for me to be here with you tonight, on such a special occasion, the holding of the International Conference of Co-operatives, the first of its kind in our province of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

We extend a warm welcome to our brothers and sisters from the African continent. It is wonderful to have you here, so that we can put our heads together to achieve the sustainable development we seek for our continent.

As the University of Zululand we are pleased to partner with the Provincial Government of Kwa Zulu Natal, especially the Department of Finance and Economic Development, to host this vital conference. Truly, this initiative seeks to prove our commitment to advance the spirit of co-operation in the province.

The Conference theme: "Empowerment through Co-operatives" captures the very essence of co-operatives, where the combined strengths of its members serve as the driving force behind the success of co-operatives.

Empowerment begins immediately when co-operation is conceptualised and implemented through the sharing of resources, knowledge and labour to achieve collective results that benefit every member of a co-operative.

A broad definition of a co-operative that is universally accepted is that it is as "an association of people who come and work together in various ways to address their common social and economic needs - be they employment, housing or access to food, or any need they consider common to all of them". Together they organise this association to address such needs, but in a manner that is not only democratic so that all its members have equal say on how the association is run and controlled, but also that the association is jointly or collectively owned.

The definition further says that such an association must run like an enterprise, requiring those who run and control it to acquire skills and knowledge of running an enterprise.

This is a morally, socially and economically powerful description of what co-operatives are all about.

It is for this reason that our government developed a separate new legislation - the Co-operatives Act of 2005, so that a co-operative could not be equated with a for-profit private company - whose role and function are fundamentally different from a co-operative.

The participants in this Conference know much better about what we are talking about. But surely it should be easier for the majority of South Africans to understand what we are talking about.

This is because even before the arrival of colonialism in our country and indeed in much of the so-called Third World, our people lived in the conditions of co-operation and social solidarity, as opposed to conditions of self-enrichment and individualism that characterises much of global societies today.

The values of Ubuntu, Ilima, Letsema in our South African traditions, are very much co-operative values, of people working together to achieve collective results. The idea of cooperatives is not new in our country and our continent. Within the liberation movement this idea was propagated by one of our founding fathers Pixley ka Isaka Seme as long ago as the 1930`s when he started cooperatives of buying land for the African people. But such an experiment could not survive in a racially polarised South Africa.

When Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in the 1950`s spoke about the need for Africans to achieve economic independence, his ideas were rooted in creating and developing successful and viable cooperatives as a way of achieving the economic freedom he propagated.

In our country we are strongly committed to the building of a mixed economy as stated in the Freedom Charter. This is an economy in which the State, the private and co-operative forms of ownership exist and work together in an integrated way, and contribute to the development of our country.

We say this because we have always understood that each form of ownership has a distinct and different role to play in economic and social development. Co-operatives have a potential role to play in addressing the socio-economic conditions of their members and their local communities. Instead of self-empowerment, which stresses the "I", co-operatives promote collective-self-empowerment, which stresses the "we".

In this regard our call for a broad-based economic empowerment seeks to highlight and recognise the co-operative form of ownership, amongst others, to benefit the whole community in a collective manner rather than developing an individual.

All over the world, the co-operatives have successfully operated as people-centred and people-driven enterprises, promoting the development of sustainable communities and social cohesion.

With their values of ubuntu, social solidarity, equality and democracy and with their concerns for the needs of their members and their communities, co-operatives remind us that democracy is not something that is only in the political sphere, but that it is possible to exercise, and translate it in practice, within the economic sphere.

Today when the world faces unstable financial systems, economic meltdown, increased insecurity of food supply, growing inequality and unemployment, rapid climate change and increased environmental degradation it is becoming more compelling to consider an inclusive enterprise model that the co-operative form of ownership offers. The cooperative sector, especially in developing countries, also presents itself as an important element that can contribute to the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

But what is the state of the co-operatives in South Africa? According to recent study by the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), democratic South Africa has seen the rapid formation of thousands of co-operatives, especially since 2004, from 4,000 to more than 12,000 in 2007.

It is a result of the ANC government policies, including legislation to support co-operatives of all kinds, that we have seen the active promotion and growth of cooperatives particularly in the last five years.

In fact the same study notes that where government support is greatest, we find the greatest number of co-operatives. Hence it was to be expected that KwaZulu-Natal government would emerge as the greatest contributor to co-operatives formation in the country, given the support.

But as the DTI`s report notes, the rising number of co-operatives in the country does not tell us much about the state of co-operatives in the country. Many co-operatives have not really found their feet in a substantial way, they still need to be nurtured, developed and grown. This needs institutional support at all levels.

On the national scale, the contribution of cooperatives to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) remains marginal in relation to having an impact on the national economy. If they are to play a critically important role they will need adequate and appropriate access to capital, markets and skills development, including management and governance skills. Systematic support is required during their formation, operational and expansion stages.

Despite a number of good initiatives at all levels of government to support co-operatives, much more still needs to be done.

The ruling party`s 2009 Election Manifesto has placed much more emphasis on the promotion of different types of economic participation. The commitments for the next five years provide opportunities for co-operatives to take advantages on a range of policies and programmes.

There are many expectations that we have from cooperatives. In our commitment to promote decent work opportunities and sustainable livelihoods, we expect the formation of co-operatives that create and sustain employment to provide home-based care services, participate in community public works programmes and various employment-intensive production schemes.

In our commitment to accelerate agricultural production and food security as a country, we will expect food co-operatives and agricultural co-operatives to be established.

These cooperatives will contribute to the sustainable and productive use of the land, to get involved in emergency food relief programmes and various food production schemes.

In our commitment to transform and diversify the financial sector, we expect our people to take advantage of the new legislation, the Co-operatives Banks Act of 2007. The legislation will help them to mobilise their savings. We could promote a savings culture in our country through the formation of co-operative banks that are owned and controlled by communities and the workers.

Given our commitment to building decent housing, we expect those who need housing to come together as housing co-operatives. They would mobilise their resources and combine them with government resources to build much better housing for themselves and their communities.

We can mention other possibilities opened up by our government, but the fundamental point is clear: only by working together can we do more! And the cooperatives approach will play a central role in achieving our objectives.

To take advantage of the many possibilities, co-operatives must get better organised than they currently are, from the bottom upwards. This is your challenge!

And we are sure that co-operators understand the message of working together much better than anyone else, simply because it is through co-operation that the results of your individual efforts are realised.

Let us raise this spirit of co-operation with government as well, and ensure that we all work together to address many challenges facing our people. Before I conclude, let me remind all delegates about the most spectacular event in the continent, the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I received a briefing this morning from the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Dr Irvin Khoza, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Organising Committee, Danny Jordaan.

The preparations are on track and I share their optimism and enthusiasm. This is going to the best World Cup ever and we invite the continent to share in the glory and the excitement.

We look forward to the results of the Conference deliberations and certainly, they will help us in taking our country, and the co-operative movement forward.

I wish you a successful conference.

I thank you!

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