Photography by Tila Nomvula Mathizerd
Archive > Issues > Issue #2: Dough > My First Stokvel

My First Stokvel

In our house growing up there was never any real love for food. Which means I don’t have treasured memories of sitting around a table and enjoying family meals, no seven colours on Sundays, no recipes passed down, besides a “potatoes dipped in vinegar” remedy that my grandmother used to cure any and every ailment you can think of.

While I don’t have a particular meal that transports me back to my childhood, there was my mom’s societ. When it was her turn to host the ladies I knew that it was my time to feast and get a buzz from the energy that filled the house. Sadly the societ crumbled and my mom didn’t join another.

What I didn’t know then was that a stokvel is a saving scheme and a burial society or ‘societ’ as many of us call it, is a form of insurance. It’s a way for families to save money to contribute to funeral costs in the unfortunate event of a death. It also serves as a support group for the family during that time, with the members helping to prepare food and traditional drinks for the funeral.

Photography by Tila Nomvula Mathizerd
Photo by Tila Nomvula Mathizerd

But how does it work? First you assemble a group of people who are interested in saving, decide whether you are saving for a common goal or for individual needs – this will help you figure out what type of stokvel you have and will influence the amount of money each person adds to the pool. Then decide on the amount of the contribution and create a flow calendar that indicates who gets the pool when. Because, in essence, a stokvel is an organisation, there have to be rules and regulations that inform and formalise the inner workings and culture.

In preparing to write this piece I found out that new age stokvels operate not only as saving schemes but also much like investment clubs, doing research and then investing in different shares and companies. With members knowing they will receive a windfall amount they can carefully plan their finances.

It occurred to me that even though a stokvel is a great way to get into the habit of saving, it also offers a vital opportunity for a sisterhood. So I decided to host my own stokvel with some of my closest friends. First we agreed on a fixed amount of money to contribute and the order in which it would rotate. Once the date was set I decided on a menu that was delectable, fit to charge the hearts of goddesses and lift them back to their divine state of being.

My labour of love starts with samp, followed by the massaging of a full chicken as I ask it to co-operate by cooking slow until tender and delicious. I separate its skin from its flesh using my fingers without tearing it then spread my paste of cream cheese and herbs evenly across its breast, back and legs. I stuff my chicken and blanket it in bacon before throwing it in the oven. I boil gem squash in one pot and sauté mushrooms in butter, adding a splash of soy sauce in another. My guests start arriving and the excitement builds. I have to kick them out of the kitchen so I can focus on my potatoes and sweet corn. I take a page out of Like Water for Chocolate and encourage my carrots and baked beans to arrest my guests’ taste buds before throwing butter beans into the lamb curry.

Laughter danced with the aroma that filled the air throughout the house, leaving us feeling happily intoxicated.

Conversation was flowing and money was on our lips. We discussed the financial challenges that plague us as young black women: student loans, earning less than our white and black male counterparts, black tax, raising children and even though we are all in different stages of our lives both personally and professionally, we all expressed an almost soul crushing yearning to be financially free or stable at the very least. We spoke at length about creating spaces that are conducive to the growth of black women, a safe place for us to exchange knowledge and ideas, a haven where we could be ourselves in all our splendour. I sat back and smiled realising that we have already created such a space with our stokvel.

Mosa Mahlaba is a content creator, coffee drinker and social commentator. She is the author of Searching for the Spirit of Spring.

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