Snoek en patat

Africa’s ‘youth bulge’ is a blessing and a curse: one in five is young, out of work, and potentially frustrated by their lack of prospects. Rather than look to big business, government, or budding entrepreneurs to create the kinds of jobs that will soak up their vigour and potential, how can we create a ‘new world of work’ through ‘going local’? This was central to FLOW, where weaving together youth development with a community currency challenged some myths about how to achieve economic growth. In the process, FLOW discovered that many youth don’t have the appetite to risk becoming entrepreneurs, but at the same time aspire to work at something that is more than just a ‘job’.

Leonie Joubert

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Snoek en patat

Africa’s ‘youth bulge’ is a blessing and a curse: one in five is young, out of work, and potentially frustrated by their lack of prospects. Rather than look to big business, government, or budding entrepreneurs to create the kinds of jobs that will soak up their vigour and potential, how can we create a ‘new world of work’ through ‘going local’? This was central to FLOW, where weaving together youth development with a community currency challenged some myths about how to achieve economic growth. In the process, FLOW discovered that many youth don’t have the appetite to risk becoming entrepreneurs, but at the same time aspire to work at something that is more than just a ‘job’.

Leonie Joubert

Snoek en patat

When you order a meal of snoek en patat at the annual winter festival here in Goedverwacht, each part of the platter tells a piece of their story: a slab of Cape snoek, a kind of mackerel, roasted over the open coals so that it gets that smoky, charred finish; a sweet potato baked in its skin, preferably in an old wood-fired Dover stove; a wedge of steaming roosterbrood – a coal-roasted sour dough roll – also with the criss-cross grill marks seared into its crusty shell; and a touch of sweetness from the homemade grape jam. All of this, preferably served in a tin plate, a doff of the cap to these descendants of enslaved people who have been coaxing sweet potato from the sandy, ash-grey soils of this platteland valley since they inherited the farm in the late 1800s, shortly before the Moravian missionaries set up an outpost here in 1889.

During the post-war Depression years, the men from Goedverwacht would load up their sweet potato harvest onto their horse carts, and trek down to Velddrif, about 60km west of here, to sell the crop. Then they’d stock up with fresh fish and head back inland.

‘It wasn’t always snoek,’ says Lorraine Cornelius, as her flour-dusted hands roll out a length of puffy dough, before cutting it into three portions which will get roasted over the open coals on the braai (barbecue) outside. ‘But when it was snoek, it was a delicacy.’

Those old timers, they knew how to preserve the fish on that long trip home: either wrapped in wet hessian, or sprinkled with salt.

A younger woman comes by to collect the tray of dough balls for roasting over the open coals outside.

‘Very hot, ?’ the 60-year-old Lorraine instructs her, ‘it must bake immediately.’

Like so many Goedverwacht locals, Lorraine has a few business irons in the fire: she runs the tourism office here; she has a home-stay arrangement where she rents out rooms in her house to tourists; she runs a tuck shop from a room not much bigger than a broom closet here at the tourism centre; and she makes and sells these steaming fresh roosterbrood from her shop.

It’s two weeks away from this year’s Snoek en Patat Fees – the Snoek and Sweet Potato Festival – an event that was started 12 years ago by the Goedverwacht Tourism Development Forum as a way to get some life back into the valley’s quagmired economy.

Unlike Piketberg and Kokstad, which benefit from the passing traffic of the various highways and byways that run through or near them, Goedverwacht is tucked into the dead end of a cul-de-sac, deep in the mountains behind Piketberg. With only a small amount of farming produce to export from their valley, and few other business opportunities, this community decided to tap into their cultural heritage to draw tourists into the community. That’s when they decided to write the story of their history into a humble tin-plate platter of food.

The shoe shop

Lossie’s Tuckshop has all the basics: cooking oil, packets of bi-carb and baking powder, flour, maize meal, drinking glasses, packets of crisps, fridges with all the usual fizzy drink brands, mayonnaise, washing powder, soap, candles, cartons of UHT milk, a few different kinds of dried herbs, shampoo, chest freezers with labels that are unreadable from the serving hatch.

The shop operates out the back of Lelani Cunningham’s grandparent’s house, about five minutes’ walk across the valley from the Goedverwacht tourism centre where Lorraine sells her roosterbrood, and it’s where Lelani’s first business operation started.

‘I like shoes.’

The 28-year-old minister’s daughter and former FLOW Ambassador is soft spoken and reserved. She’s reflecting on what it takes to venture into things entrepreneurial in a community like hers, where jobs are few and people don’t have much cash.

‘I had some money after finishing a job in Piketberg in 2012. And I had to decide what to do with it, spend it or invest.’

Lelani saw a pamphlet for a factory shop in Cape Town where one can buy shoes cheaply, and so she took R250 (less than US$20) and travelled to the big city to buy a few pairs of sandals, slippers and boots. At first she sold them from home, but then put them on display on a single shelf in Lossie’s Tuckshop, and let people buy them ‘on the book’: she would set a pair of shoes aside for a customer until they’d paid them off in instalments.

‘The second time, I spent R3 200 (-/+ US$225), because I saw there was an opportunity here. No one else was selling shoes in Goedverwacht.’

The third and last time she brought in a consignment of shoes, she spent about R2 000 (US$140) on stock. Even then, it was risky because her customers couldn’t always pay for the shoes in full.

When the FLOW Ambassador programme was first taking shape, the notion of building up a group of young entrepreneurs was central to the plan. It wasn’t so much a set policy of the municipality, explains municipal manager Hanlie Linde, but it was about boosting economic development here, a way of ‘assisting people to raise money and do their own thing’.

This kind of approach is partly rooted in one of the prevailing narratives around economic growth and unemployment, argue Anna Cowen and John Ziniades, FLOW’s co-creators: if you can grow a generation of entrepreneurs, and graduate their small businesses so that they make it in the formal sector, then the jobs they create will soak up the unemployed and the economy will take off.

But it soon became clear that many of Lelani’s peers don’t have the same appetite for this kind of small business.

‘A lot of youngsters are afraid to take the risk,’ says Lelani of her contemporaries. ‘I was fortunate to have some money. Not everyone has that kind of finance to start up a business.’

FLOW co-ordinator Ian Schaffers says the original idea was to support the ambassadors who already had businesses, and help them to grow those further. Jonelle Bailey, from the first group of Bergrivier recruits, sold snoek and needed a fridge if she wanted to expand the operation. Loritha Majerrie had a small hairdressing operation at her home, and would have needed equipment and a proper salon. Lelani could also have done with some support.

The intention was also linked with the BRAND currency, and the role which it might play in fostering local business growth, explains Anna. The ambassadors with small businesses were amongst the first signed-up members of the BRAND network, and they hoped that they’d be role models to other potential members.

But most of the ambassadors were clear: they wanted jobs, with salaries and benefits, and little risk.

‘We talked about it a lot, and one of the ambassadors straight up said ‘I don’t want to run a business’,’ Ian explains. ‘A salaried job is much more attractive,’ he says, reflecting on his two years as a co-ordinator for these ambassadors. ‘They want to go into HR (human resources), or nursing, or teaching. Some want to work at the local municipality. One wants to be a policeman, another wants to be a lawyer.’

Sure, the FLOW team argues, there are some entrepreneurs in the community whose small businesses can drive this sort of job creation (Ian and Lelani might be seen as such). But tackling the unemployed youth bulge needs more than that.

This is where the second narrative around tackling unemployment comes in, argues John: the idea that government must create jobs, particularly through large infrastructure projects or top-heavy bureaucracies.

It’s a hangover from the New Deal approach put forward by President Roosevelt, to steer the USA out of its mid-1930s economic depression. In addition to a suite of policy reforms, it included a series of public works-type projects that created low-skill jobs. But adopting a policy like this creates a passive workforce that is waiting for someone else to create work for them.

‘This kind of thinking will remain a remnant of the industrial era, where either big business or government will create jobs for people,’ says John.

‘Underpinning both of these narratives is the idea that development through ‘economic growth’ is based on the extraction of limitless resources,’ he argues. ‘In FLOW, we wanted to question this strategy. We propose something different, what the UK economics commissioner for its Sustainable Development Commission, Tim Jackson, calls ‘prosperity without growth’. It’s about measuring ‘wellbeing’ instead of GDP.’

The FLOW team was curious to explore these narratives, including the assumption that young people want to be entrepreneurs.

‘We were fascinated to discover that, in many respects, this was not the case with the ambassadors. It rarely was.’

Since the first intake of ambassadors has graduated, some have taken part-time jobs or short-term contract work, such as at a food retailer, or at the local Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Piketberg office ahead of the local government elections in August 2016. Loritha doesn’t do hair anymore, but gets a bit of cash from running people around town in a car. Some of the graduates are hoping that FLOW will seed a development initiative here that could give some of them employment.

Most of the youth who do tinker in small business ventures here, are running hand-to-mouth operations that support them until a real job comes along.

‘We wanted to encourage entrepreneurs, but many of the first ambassadors fell back onto salaries,’ explains Hanlie. ‘Don’t be too harsh on them. They need a salary. We thought of mentoring them and raising entrepreneurs, but to go from zero to entrepreneur is very difficult.’

What comes after a world of jobs that is based on extractive Capitalist growth, or hand-me-downs given by government? And how does one stimulate a more vibrant local economy, that isn’t dependent on industrial-scale businesses and associated supply chains, to thrive? And how, within that, do the out-of-work youth of Africa plug into this system, and find life-enhancing work that is ‘more than just a job’?

They might not have the answer yet, but what they learned through FLOW was that this kind of community gives the context and scale to play with ideas around localisation for job creation and economic growth.

In the meantime, Lelani admits that she isn’t selling shoes at the moment. She’s busy with her IEC work, and her other business venture, which is renting out a second-hand jumping castle that her and her builder boyfriend Fernando Cornelius bought a few months back. She’s thinking of investing in some children’s chairs and tables, and getting a friend to bake cakes, so she can set up a full-on kids’ party outfit. As much as she likes shoes, those are going to have to wait for a while.

Bread and jam

When FLOW hosted a workshop in Cape Town, they invited businesses in Piketberg and Goedverwacht to cater for the event. Goedverwacht pitched to do a snoek en patat lunch a la their annual festival. It meant setting up braai drums out the back of an inner-city building, and barbecuing fillet upon fillet of snoek for the guests. It was a point of pride for the community of Goedverwacht, that they had this piece of their culture that they could work into a model for tourism and business opportunities.

So while Lorraine Cornelius explains the history of the festival, she and the rest of the Goedverwacht Tourism Development Forum are gearing up for the approaching festival rush. They’ll soon be putting up marquees, roping in the singers and hip-hop dancers, and firing up their braais in anticipation of the bus-loads of visitors from Cape Town, the West Coast and the surrounding platteland. Sweet potatoes, braai-ed snoek, and roosterbrood.

But what about the story of the grape jam? Where does that fit in, because no one grows grapes in this valley?

‘The grape jam symbolises the wine of our fathers,’ says Lorraine.

‘Now look at me,’ she says, pausing soberly over her doughy fingers, ‘look at me!’

‘The grape jam symbolises the wine of our fathers, because when they came back from selling their sweet potato, they would also come back with wine. Wine caused a lot of problems for the community.’

But it’s okay, she explains, because the women of Goedverwacht were strong. They held everyone together.

‘In that platter of snoek en patat,’ she says, ‘the whole story lies.’


Sydelle Willow Smith
Import-export: Lorraine Cornelius recalls the Depression-era stories when Goedverwacht farmers sold potato and bought fresh fish in from the nearby coast
Sydelle Willow Smith

Retail Therapy

The last Saturday of the month, farmers from across the region come to the Kruistementvlei farm, up in the Piket-Bo-Berg, to lay out their wares for the locals to buy. It may look like a return to the quaint village ways of yesteryear, but farmers’ markets are quietly and deeply subversive of the industrial food system.

Modern, often urban, life has put a huge distance between farm and fork. This means foods are shipped across extremely long value chains, which pushes up the carbon emissions at every point, from harvesting, shipping, warehousing, packaging, manufacture, and retail.

It has allowed big food industry players to dominate this value chain, and scoop their bit of profit at each point on the way. It also disconnects us from the origin of that food – not just how difficult and risky it is to grow food, but also how valuable the resources are that are needed (water, soil, minerals, the carbon-absorbing properties of the atmosphere, and so forth).

Farmers’ markets mean we can shorten the distance from farm to fork, which cuts down significantly on carbon emissions and keeps the cash exchanging hands within the local community, rather than having it siphoned off to some head office in the city; we can meet the farmer, buy fresher produce, and remember that broccoli doesn’t naturally come bundled up in cling film.

There’s one more intangible benefit of markets like this: they bring people together, allowing eye contact, conversation, and the kind of togetherness that humans need to experience. LJ

Sydelle Willow Smith

‘Local is lekker’

South Africans have a rather quaint saying: ‘local is lekker’. And it means more than that local is merely ‘nice’. But in the context of trying to foster more resilient communities, going local is key to thriving, and it’s about much more than just returning to some romanticised bygone era of localised bartering, or handmade clothes, or home-grown food. The FLOW programme tried to explore what ‘going local’ means in terms of a post-globalisation world.

What it is

For communities to move towards resilience, they need to be able to ‘shape decisions that affect them’, which includes being able to self organise, writes Rob Hopkins in The Transition Companion. They also need to be able to learn and adapt. And as a community, they need to plan.

Localisation is an economic strategy. It’s an almost inevitable kickback against the forces of globalisation, argues Hopkins, and global forces such as climate change and a volatile oil price.

As we approach the end of cheap oil, for instance, transport prices go up, so long-hauling of goods and services becomes unaffordable… cascading inevitably back to trading and moving around on a more local scale.

Hopkins argues that it’s about meeting local needs – particularly in terms of food, energy and construction – through local production, and then topping up the need by importing where necessary. Trading still happens, but not on a global scale as much. It allows for a more diverse, and therefore stronger, local economy. It helps widen the skill set within a community, share access to resources, and is about letting modern technology thrive in spite of us moving into a low-energy future.

FLOW tried to apply the fact that localisation works at different scales, where different strategies are appropriate to different community sizes, levels of organisation, and governance.

For instance, where a population is just a bit bigger than that of Bergrivier – say, of 100 000 people – then local production could focus on food, or energy, or housing provision, according to Hopkins, quoting the New Economics Foundation (NEF). Distribution could focus on daily supplies and food. Services could be geared towards schooling, local healthcare and catering, for example.

As a community grows in size to, say, 50 million – almost the size of South Africa – production could focus on clothing and textiles, writes Hopkins, or electronic devices, or supply of oil, gas or coal. Distribution could be geared towards bulk commodities, such as grain, while services could be nationwide telecoms or utility-scale electricity provision.

What it isn’t

There’s a peculiar town in South Africa, called Orania. It’s a kind of tribal enclave for a group of Afrikaners who maintain that they want to protect their language and heritage. But critics say they have rejected the new, racially integrated and democratic South Africa, that they have hunkered down into an insular community and shut themselves off from the rest of the world.

‘That’s not what localisation is,’ chuckles John. ‘FLOW, and the local currency, was not about trying to create an Orania system. The BRAND and K’Mali were not about creating alternative currencies, but currencies that are complementary, and parallel to, the existing monetary system.’

The localisation movement, according to Hopkins, is not about cutting off trade, or being entirely self-sufficient, or going off-grid, or shunning multi-national corporations entirely. Neither is it about a few powerful locals rising to dominance within the vacuums created by the absence of big business in the local system. And it’s not a return to a subservient labour force.

Going local isn’t a ‘regressive slide back towards subsistence and poverty’, as critics such as Strathclyde University engineering science professor, Colin Mclnnes maintains.

No, argue the FLOW team, as they reflect on their programme as it winds to a close. ‘We envisage communities being connected and part of the world, not closed off or entirely self-sufficient. Rather, it’s a space of sharing ideas freely using global networks.’

This value ties into the ethos of the open source movement, and peer-to-peer networking.

Sydelle Willow Smith

More than just jobs

We want to go beyond the world of ‘McJobs’, argues Anna. ‘We need to create a new world of work, one that goes beyond the traditional sense of the ‘job’. It’s a place where work is connected to place and community, where there is a sense of purpose, of people offering their unique gifts. It is a place of self-actualisation, where the workplace doesn’t see people as expendable and replaceable, or just some cogs in an industrial wheel.’

Localising is part of creating that space, where everyone’s needs are met at a local level, and the things that people make and grow are at the appropriate scale.

By localising, the FLOW project believes, people can produce their own energy within their communities, where there is enough for themselves and to share with others who may have a shortage. The same goes for harvesting and cleaning their own water, or growing their own food, or using household waste in a way that benefits the system. (See some of these solutions in Chapter 6 Seeds of Tomorrow.)

‘The idea is to have a distributed, decentralised production system, using open source tech, for instance, where everyone has gainful and meaningful employment.’

If a community can meet its own basic needs locally, through using sustainable technologies, open source and commons-shared ideas, and collaborative government, then people won’t need to earn as much cash to survive, and then won’t be as vulnerable.

There is also a relationship between the concept of a local currency, these new kinds of work, and what already exists in the small businesses in each community. LJ

Sydelle Willow Smith

The BRAND bakkie

Goedverwacht has a communal bakkie – the local name for a pickup truck – that is central to their operations.

It’s small, fire engine-red, and thunders with the self-importance of a muscly diesel engine. Few of the farmers here have their own vehicles, or even drivers’ licences, and because they’re tucked away in the blunt end of a cul-de-sac in the Piketberg mountains, exporting their produce gets tricky.

The bakkie belongs to the Goedverwacht Tourism Development Forum and because Merle Dietrich is one of the few people there with a licence to drive it, you’ll often see her at the wheel, delivering local produce to Piketberg.

When the BRAND complementary currency was launched in the Bergrivier area, local businesses thought that the bakkie could be a way to strengthen the ties of the business network between the food-producing region of Goedverwacht and Piketberg, as well as stimulate use of the currency itself.

The idea was simple: Goedverwacht farmers were already shipping their veggies to Piketberg. But now that there was a business network, with its own currency, why not get members of the network to trade directly with one another and include BRAND currency in their exchanges? The hope was that it might mature into a community supported agriculture programme between the two towns. And the red diesel bakkie could be the ‘face’ of the trading network, with the BRAND logo emblazoned on its doors.

The idea was that the Goedverwacht farmers would pay for access to this distribution network, namely the BRAND bakkie, in BRAND, and Piketberg consumers could pay for a portion (up to 20%of their purchases) in BRAND.

This idea is one of the many that grew out of the first seeds of the business network and currency initiative. At the 11th hour, the arrangement fell through, but as Anna says, it’s not about whether or not the idea worked, the point is that the project created a space where people can explore ideas and test them out.

‘It’s about learning as we go.’

The FLOW Ambassadors pitched the idea to Piketberg business owners (members of the Bergrivier BRAND Network), and managed to get a lot of initial orders for veggies.

‘People were willing and keen to do this,’ says Anna. The demand was clearly there, but there was a hitch in the logistics and supply of the service. Learning from this might be an opportunity to fine tune a similar endeavour later down the line.


What it means to be rich

If you ask Ian Schaffers what it means to be wealthy, he’ll say it’s got nothing to do with cash in your pocket or money in the bank. It’s about being part of a community that knows you, with people who care about you, and will watch out for you.

Born and bred in Goedverwacht, the aspiring farmer went off to Stellenbosch University about an hour’s drive away, to study after high school. But he dropped out at one point, because he was, quite literally, going hungry.

‘At one point, I had two jobs while I was studying – helping Ph.D students as a research assistant during the day, and at night I’d run experiments at the horticulture research farm.’

He remembers a bleak time: he’d been up all Sunday night, watching over experiments, then had classes all morning until lunchtime.

‘I was so tired. I remember, I got on my bike in front of the horticulture department and the next thing I was lying there on the side of the road. Someone hit me with their car.’

While he was working this hard, he’d buy himself a ‘half bread, and a half dozen eggs’ and it would be ‘gone’.

‘I thought, no, I don’t have to go on this way! When I was at university, I was starving. But not when I was at Goedverwacht.’

And so he went back home.

‘You don’t see someone going hungry at Goedverwacht.’

Ian managed to finish up his degree eventually, and now farms a small piece of land near his home in Goedverwacht. Since 2014 he has been the local co-ordinator for FLOW.

It was the work of a Cape Town-based environmental and social justice organisation, the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) that first allowed Ian to make the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy community. The organisation was working within the Goedverwacht community to consider how climate change would affect them, and how the community could steel itself against these impacts.

‘It opened my eyes. I realised we need to be in symbiosis with the environment, and not be parasitic.’

So when researchers and the local municipality began working on the Bergrivier’s Climate Adaptation Plan a year later, he was well primed to begin the kind of work opportunities that FLOW would throw at him.

When he went for the local co-ordinator job interview in September 2014, he wasn’t sure what the role would entail, but he was offered the post on the same day and by that afternoon was sitting in on interviews with the first ambassador applicants.

Since then he’s become a leader, counsellor, confidant, and conflict mediator in his role with the FLOW Ambassadors and within the wider community.

‘Ian was exactly the right jockey (for this role), because he is an entrepreneur and a farmer,’ explains municipal manager Hanlie Linde, who has worked closely with this FLOW liaison over the past two years. ‘If he wasn’t an entrepreneur the programme wouldn’t have had the focus that it did.’

One of the toughest aspects of the job has been dealing with the changeable nature of things – they’re always having to adapt to changing plans.

‘And my job is to translate all of this into something that the ambassadors will care about.’

While so many others wish to leave these small towns, Ian is happy to be back, after his years of study. He loves the quiet and safety of his community, being able to sleep with the windows open at night, after having been a bit jaded by the abrasiveness of city life.

‘I like to help people,’ he says, over a warm cappuccino at a favourite haunt around the corner from FLOW’s Piketberg office, ‘I tried to help someone once in the city and I got robbed!’

The 30-year-old was raised by his mother and Merle Dietrich, his teacher-turned-farming aunt who was instrumental in getting him into agricultural college for high school and through his tertiary studies.

Maybe this is one of the reasons he has a keen eye for the richness

that community brings into someone’s life, something that can’t be measured in Rands and Cents, and why you don’t see people going hungry in this town.

‘Even if you don’t grow your own vegetables, there are people there who do, and if you need something, you just ask someone for it,’ he says. ‘No one’s going to say ‘no’ to you. They’ll say okay, you can get this, but then you must do that for me.’

Young, smart and savvy, Ian has a unique perspective on the youth in his community. What does wealth and wellbeing mean to them?

‘If you ask them, most will say it’s money,’ he says wryly. ‘Some of them will say it’s access to quality tertiary education. And jobs.’

But for him, Ian believes he has everything he needs right here.

‘You might have money, but you won’t be able to do what you want with that money. If you have social networks, though, and skills, you can survive without money.’



The industrial harbour of Saldanha Bay, just 100km west of Piketberg, is about to boom. A massive industrial upgrade of the port means it’s going to need 18 000 new artisans by 2018.

To recruit a generation of new fitters and turners, electricians, plumbers, cabinetmakers and joiners, machinists and the like, the Western Cape government set up a programme through a college near Saldanha: free education to anyone enrolling in the programme, and a guaranteed job afterwards.

The Bergrivier Municipality was offered 90 guaranteed slots on the programme. Tracey Stone, the municipality’s strategic manager at the time, and Hanlie Linde, municipal manager, decided to recruit 120 youngsters to enrol, just in case there were a few drop-outs.

‘Do you know how many youngsters we could get? All they had to do was travel that…’ her finger traces a line in the air above the map, following the road running from Piketberg to Saldanha, ‘for this opportunity? They didn’t have to pay a cent for their training, and they had a guaranteed job at the end.’

She pauses, holds up her hand, her fingers make a ‘0’ in the air.

‘Zero. And the reason? Dis darem rerig te ver. (It’s just too far.) Dis darem baie mooite om nou daar te gaan studeer (It’s a lot of effort to go and study there.)’

Her exasperation is tangible.

But as she says, reflecting on her colleagues’ attempt to understand this: Piketberg doesn’t so much have a case of joblessness, but of job shyness.

No one has done a proper study of why a whole generation of recent school leavers was so disinterested in this opportunity. Was it youth apathy? Was it lack of belief in themselves? Was it poor recruitment strategies? Was it that their parents simply couldn’t afford the cost of transport and accommodation if their kids took up studies 100km away from home?

But then, as John notes, the aim of seeding micro-businesses in communities like Piketberg and Kokstad, and fertilising them with initiatives such as a community currency and the strong social networks that grow around them, is so that the youth here don’t have to leave town in search of work prospects elsewhere.

‘Despite what looks like apathy and boredom, even lacklustre behaviour amongst the youth that might seem like it is bordering on entitlement, there may also be an inherent wisdom in not being drawn into this kind of big scale industrial work such as that seen at Saldanha,’ argues Anna.

Work like this is far away from ‘home’ and ‘place’.

‘At an instinctive level, people know what they love.’


The truffle-hunter

The scent of a real Perigord truffle (Tuber melanosporum) is heady, almost erotic, and stays with you for hours. It’s little wonder these fungal delicacies fetch unbelievably high prices (around R22 000 a kilo).

In June 2016, Max Bastard’s two Jack Russell terriers, assisted by his two Australian sheepdog cross-breed dogs, began to sniff out the gases that signal the presence of maturing truffles on his farm, Willowdale, about 20 kilometres from Kokstad. This fungus grows on the roots of oak trees, anywhere from 2.5 and 30 centimetres below the surface.

To grow them outside of their home range in south-eastern France, you have to plant oaks whose roots have been inoculated with truffle spores, and then wait patiently for about five years to see if they’ll take.

Max had planted oak seedlings inoculated with truffle spores about four and a half years previously, to much raising of eyebrows among the local farming community, who wondered whether he had any chance of success. Now he’s harvested the first truffles, a year or so before expected, and diners at the upmarket Hartford House near Mooiriver, some 275 kilometres away, have been treated to authentic locally grown truffles.

Max, a third generation farmer at Willowdale, sees possibilities for local communities where others see obstacles. ‘Many South African farmers are grappling with the challenge of tenant labourers’ land tenure,’ he says. ‘We initiated a programme where 638 hectares of land have been transferred, bought by the government, for the benefit of the Willowdale community, which is the community that lives on the farm.’ The community is about 180 strong. ‘They’re going to start building 83 houses by the end of March 2017. That will then allow the community to move onto their land and into their own housing, and through that start to unscramble that egg that was inherited from the apartheid system.’

There is an iconic pink church on that land, fronting onto the N2 national highway, which is a landmark for locals and travellers alike. Max envisages turning it into a farm stall for the community, earmarked for local produce, such as the stewed and bottled peaches that are produced annually by many in this small community and the Pakkies community a couple of kilometres away. A percentage of the profits could go back into the community to fund development, such as an early childhood development crèche and training farmers, he suggests.

‘What interests me about the K’Mali is that it could be a very good tool in a closed system like this,’ he says.

‘The challenge in these rural areas is that, if you think about it, our current financial system is an incredibly extractive system,’ he says. ‘Any money that comes into this community, the first thing that people do at the end of the month is they’ll jump into a taxi and drive into town; they’ll go to your big supermarkets and chain stores and that money is extracted immediately out of the community and it goes off to the bigger centres, Durban and Jo’burg, and of course to shareholders, leaving the community back where it was before the money came in. So I’m very interested in developing a closed loop whereby a percentage of any money that comes into the community can be circulated back into the community and in that way, will start creating wealth within the community.’

Max sees opportunities for the community in his success with truffles, too. He’s exploring a plan to develop 10 to 20 hectares of truffles for the community. The upfront costs will need to be funded – and he’s earmarked some possible funders – but the input costs are low, and it is low maintenance and resistant to some of the climatic dangers such as hail storms. ‘The type of revenue that could generate over a fifteen to twenty year period really has the potential to impact very positively on the community.’ MS

‘The essence of localisation is to enable communities around the world to diversify their economies so as to provide for as many of their needs as possible from relatively close to home… this does not mean eliminating trade altogether… It is about finding a more secure and sustainable balance between trade and local production.’

Helena Norbert-Hodge

‘Local Futures’ founder & director

Sydelle Willow Smith

The idea was simple: if South Africa could create a class of small-sized business people, they would create jobs and carry the country’s economy to cruising altitude. This has been the philosophical updraft of many economists here in the past two decades. With this in mind, FLOW set out to see if it could nurture the young ambassadors into a clutch of fledgling entrepreneurs. What they found, though, is that the reality of many young South Africans doesn’t match the lofty aspirations of economics theorists.