Stokvel parties are fun

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

Most people are broke now after having spent excessively over the festive season and the stokvel is one way people can still make ends meet.

Or is it?

A visit to a stokvel on Saturday gave me more than I had bargained for. The party gave me an insight into the goings on at stokvels and some of the things are as interesting as they are curious.

The township stokvel is a different world all together compared with the glamorous celebrity parties that one is used to attending as an entertainment journalist in celebrity-mad South Africa.

At these celebrity do's people who for years imbibed cheap beverages have suddenly become connoisseurs of expensive single-malt whiskies.

Friends one has known for years, and who only drank ngudu, are suddenly whiskey, wine and cigar experts.

But on Saturday, thanks to an invitation from my cousin in Kagiso in Mogale City, I had a lesson in how ordinary folks enjoy themselves at a stokvel in a way that puts pretentious and uncouth celebrities to shame.

She is a huge woman and she enjoyed her pap, morogo, butternut and friend chicken. She seemed to be gasping for breath. She was lost in her thoughts. She was aware of the presence of fellow stokvel members, but she minded her own business.

She simply continued eating, though it was obvious that her bulging tummy could not take any more food.

First there was Oliver Mtukudzi's music playing full blast from the ghetto blaster, the speakers of which, as is often the case at such parties, were positioned strategically outside to be loud enough for neighbours and passers-by to hear and, more importantly, to enjoy.

The jazz tunes belted out first and house music later were strictly none of her business as they seemed to have no effect in the goings on in this lady's world.

Even her gasping for breath did not deter her from indulging further, enjoying her food and taking breaks in between.

It was part of her ration as a member of the stokvel. Unpretentious, simple and complete, she was at a lovely party and she enjoyed herself fully.

This scene played itself out at my cousin's place where his wife was hosting a monthly stokvel for her 10 members, all females. At these get-togethers the hostess is obliged to provide food for free to all members.

The member hosting the party also has to provide entertainment in the form of music and sometimes a DJ.

The members are obliged to buy and drink as much liquor as possible from the hostess.

A resourceful young man from the neighbourhood brought his house music CDs and volunteered to replace the jazz tunes the ladies did not seem to appreciate in exchange for free booze.

And this set the party going for the ladies. Simple and unsophisticated.

After receiving the invitation from my cousin to go to Kagiso instead of Sophiatown and Newtown for lunch, my partner and I decided to settle for the stokvel party. We were invited because we are family, and not as members of the stokvel.

My cousin's wife is a member of this stokvel, which I found out has been in existence for quite some time. It was also explained to me that the 10 members take turns to host a party at their homes.

We arrived at my cousin's house at around 4pm. There were only about three guests when we got there, leading my cousin to wonder loudly whether there was something wrong with his wife's parties.

"I know very well that the idea of the stokvel is not purely for commercial gain. It is a way for female folk to get to know each other and create their own network.

"This is something useful because should tragedy befall one of the members, all the other members get together to give a helping hand.

"But still, I do not think that my wife made a good decision to agree to host a stokvel on January 4 because everybody is broke," my cousin said in frustration. "She should have insisted that she hosted the stokvel at the end of January when people will have been paid."

We heard that same complaint from my cousin three or four times during the evening.

Yes, my cousin was right and wrong at the same time. Right in that most of the members were drinking the beer on credit.

Wrong because the members are not interested in mere financial gain. Getting together achieves some kind of social value that money can never buy. This seems to be the rationale behind stokvels.

Credit or no credit, come month end my cousin's wife will get the money anyway.

By 10pm when we left, all the stokvel members and their friends were partying hard, dancing to house music that is often enjoyed by young people. Never underestimate the energy of our mothers when it comes to the dance floor.

As to the member who enjoys her food so much, do not ask me if she was also on the dance floor. Does it matter anyway?

This experience was a lesson in the psychology of a stokvel and its members. Crucially, when it is the best time to host a stokvel party and always to remember to have pots and pots of food and liquor because some people eat mountains of food at the stokvels.