Economic Empowerment and Livelihood
Defying the Odds, Not the Abuse: South African Women’s Agency and Rotating Saving Schemes, 1994-2017
Employing a feminist lens that places emphasis on women’s agency South African feminists have challenged the dominant narrative of hapless women who need external saviours to climb out of poverty. In particular, black South African feminists have drawn attention to the appropriation and deployment of both indigenous and other concepts and practices by women to fight poverty. This article employs these perspectives to interpret the importance of rotating saving schemes in South Africa. It explores the debate about women’s economic, communityparticipation and entrepreneurship strategies with reference to the Stokvel and other rotating saving-schemes (e.g. mashonisa) to improve the status of women. It argues that most African women and their independence-found access to economic opportunities and wealth status enabled them to transcend post-Apartheid economic deprivation and carry through their battle for economic recognition and survival through overt and covert agency symptomatic of their Apartheid-era liberation war strategies. South African women living in poverty sought to help themselves, and how they did that brings out novel ways to survive, and illustrates that they are quite ‘bankable’ as they can save, borrow, invest in their own enterprises, use micro-finance and other schemes to repay their loans and meet immediate needs (e.g. school fees, healthcare). Their effort to address poverty is important because it helps avoid a stereotype picture that Africans are just poor and cannot change or anticipate their situation themselves. The paper finds that whilst most South African women were poor, they saw themselves ‘on the verge of conquering poverty’. African women epitomized the confidence in this economic rhetoric when they embarked on Stokvel activities to ensure their ‘triumph over poverty’.
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