Cooperative Development Facilitator
The first time that Andrew Bennie saw how the collective power of individuals could thwart the plans of a mighty conglomerate was when he studied a community opposing plans to mine sand dunes for titanium.
Bennie went to live among the Wild Coast community as part of his research for a master’s degree in sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand. He found that the mining company’s claims of job creation, prosperity and promises to protect the environment failed to impress the community.
They were calling for jobs that would protect the environment, not damage it. The mining licence was withheld and Bennie’s passion for activism and answers that serve the community, not big corporations, was born.
“That got me into social justice issues and set me in the direction of becoming more of an activist and engaging in these sort of activities,” he says. He now sits on the board of Sustaining the Wild Coast, so he can continue to support those communities.
His full time job is with the Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre (Copac), which works with township and rural communities to promote food sovereignty and the solidarity economy alternative. In practice, that means helping poor communities to develop worker cooperatives that run self-reliant and sustainable projects spanning organic farming, waste recycling and manufacturing.
“Our current food systems are mostly under the control of large corporations organised around profit rather than human need. It has moved away from local communities to be under the control of powerful economic actors,” Bennie says.
That lack of local control and the focus on profits is one of the reasons we have hunger, he says.
Through Copac he can challenge the government on its food and agricultural policies, challenge companies by highlighting issues such as bread price fixing, and work to restore food production and distribution in communities.
“Copac is working with local organisations in 14 different sites to help them build concrete alternatives through practices such as urban farming, local markets and cooperative bakeries.” — Lesley Stones