South Africa’s first co-operative management graduates are ready to start their co-operative journey

9 Apr 2014

While youth unemployment has reached a new high in South Africa (70%), co-operatives from the KwaZulu-Natal province are offering internships to 50 young people about to graduate with a diploma in Co-operative Management.

KwaZulu-Natal is one of the poorest provinces of South Africa, but also one of the most committed to co-operative development. The three-year diploma course is sponsored by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDT) of KwaZulu-Natal, in partnership with the University of Zululand.

As part of the course, students get to learn about the co-operative history and principles while developing new skills in accounting, business management or banking. Once they graduate they will join DEDT as interns in the co-operative unit. They will then be assigned to different co-operatives across the province, where they will have the chance to put in practice what they have learned.

One of the students due to graduate this year, Kwanele Mkhwanzi, is also a founding member of the Co-operative Management Studies Society. He says the course has helped to change his perspective on entrepreneurship. Kwanele now believes that social entrepreneurship is the solution to the socio-economic challenges the country is facing.

“I have learnt that true co-operatives can really make a difference to the lives of many people. In a country like South Africa, which is faced with a high level of youth unemployment, co-operatives have proved to be the hidden alternative.

“Obtaining this qualification has given me confidence to take on such challenges head on with a co-operative approach or the co-operative way of doing business. It has enhanced my self-confidence and ability to critically evaluate business and management elements so as to develop solutions from the ethical, practical as well as theoretical perspective.”

Along with eight other colleagues, Kwanele chose to continue his studies with a Bachelor in Comerce.

Prof Fikile Mazibuko, vice chancellor of the University of Zululand said the higher education institution was the only one in the country which offered an undergraduate course in Co-operative Management. She added that all students due to graduate in 2014 have already been absorbed into the job market.

In 2012 Kwanele was sponsored by the DEDT to take part in the International Summit of Co-operatives. At the Summit he helped draft the International Youth Co-operative Statement that was then presented to the United Nations.

“This Summit exposed me to big co-operatives that continued to change the lives of people. I got to understand the major role of the ICA that I have been learning about only in theory. I understood the major role that has to be played by the movement in developing co-operatives and advocating for support for this model,” he said.

Along with other colleagues, Kwanele founded the South African Youth Co-operative Network, which is a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to connect young people in South Africa, allowing them to share ideas and experience of the challenges they face in their co-operatives.

“Co-operatives can play a major role in empowering our young South African that have long been disadvantaged, disengaged and disempowered due to legacy of the apartheid. South Africa faces a huge challenge of youth unemployment.Through co-operatives, young people are given opportunities to create jobs themselves.” he said.

Photo: Siyabonga Mthembu; UNIZULU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Fikile Mazibuko; Mbali Chiliza and Kwanele Mkhwanazi.

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