Eustace Mashimbye, chief executive of Proudly South African. Photo: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG - In 2007, the word Locavore was voted word of the year by the Oxford American Dictionary, defining someone who only consumes whatever has been grown, produced and supplied locally.

Reserved generally for dyed in the wool environmentalists trying to reduce their carbon footprint, the term nevertheless encapsulates an ethos that goes far beyond buying local, to shopping local.

It is often cited that money spent in a Jewish community remains in that community for up to a month before someone breaks the chain, and the money leaves for the greater economy, the fiscus, or overseas. In Asian communities, it is said, the duration that locally spent money circulates is even longer. But the general belief is that the time frame for money staying in black communities that has been spent there on black-owned businesses is less than one day! If that is truly the case, then something is surely not right.

Support for your own community, if not your own faith or racial group, is what this is about. Some community groups have stronger ties and bonds than others and even stronger feelings about who is entitled to shop in their community. A recent article in The Economist on the subject of accommodation disrupter Airbnb cited neighborhoods up in arms, because of the proliferation of properties in their area being rented out to visitors, who clog up their corner shops and facilities.

Even worse, they have pushed out those local independent businesses and global coffee shop brands and high street stores have moved in their place. “Airbnb out of towners warp districts and upset residents. Grocery shops and libraries that cater for locals are replaced by identikit cafés and bike rental outfits that serve tourists.”

Like Uber, Airbnb is being subject to tighter regulations in America and Europe for this and other perceived damage it is doing to some neighborhoods.

The recent upsurge in all things craft and artisanal points to the popularity of small, boutique products over generic, mass-produced goods. Products with a story to tell - with a real name behind the brand - have great value and appeal. Small neighborhood markets and festivals dedicated to local farmers’ produce have popped up everywhere, allowing us to buy fresh bread, fruit and vegetables on our doorstep, and to make our own contribution to a reduction in carbon emissions as we walk down to the stalls at the weekend, leaving the car for supermarket outings.

The immense popularity of the Proudly South African Delicious Food and Music Festival taking place next month and which is entirely populated with local food trucks is testimony to this movement for all things local. Knowing and being known by our neighbours and the shop and business owners in our immediate 'hood gives us a real sense of belonging.

In a country renowned for its high walls (in the suburbs, at least, if not in the townships), returning to local shopping has given us back our sense of community. Supporting locally grown, produced and manufactured items is good for everyone. This is the first major contributing factor to keeping money circulating in our communities, at least a couple of times, as consumers identify with the vendors and products made by "their own".

Returning to the length of time money spent by blacks in their communities remains in circulation reminds me of a short video I saw recently admonishing black South Africans to support each other’s businesses.

The only problem with the message was that it was a call to action by geography and race only and not by local production.

Buying black without considering where the item came from still results in limited circulation of money. Sourcing items to be sold to the black community, but which have been imported, sends the money right back into the coffers of the original manufacturer far outside the community. Programmes such as the Black Industrialists programme advocate and support the emergence of black manufacturers and producers and the call should include the establishment of these companies within black communities.

In this push to stay local, we must not conflate shopping local with buying local. Buying local means checking labels of origin for items Made in South Africa, ensuring that not just revenue but jobs are being created by local companies.

Although now disbanded, the group New Age sang long ago about Uyajola e’next door - go shopping in your street and ask for a locally made product while you’re at it!

Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly South African.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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