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The Community Exchange System in Cape Town

We talked shop with the organisers of the city’s only living, breathing trade economy

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There’s never enough money; we’re all up to our eyeballs in debt, and the end-of-the-month-Salticrax tend to start about two weeks prior to payday – no matter how much you earn and how little you seem to spend.

But is this the only way to live?

The ingenious people at the Cape Town Talent Exchange say no. As part of the larger Community Exchange System (CES), a global organisation which encourages users to trade in a virtual currency – Cape Town’s currency is called talents(T), the Cape Town Talent Exchange (CTTE) has brought a trade economy to the Mother city and also hosts a monthly marketplace where wallets are faux pas.

Capetonians who have latched onto this alternative living experiment exchange talents with each other for goods and services without exchanging cash. All transactions are recorded in digital ledgers in cyberspace, and transactions are interest-free. Not to mention, users can see each other’s account balances; thereby, creating a transparent “banking” system owned and maintained by the CES community, rather than by the faceless, nameless employees of the monetary system.

Complicated? A little, so let’s consider a quick scenario.

If, for example, a butcher goes to the market and buys a loaf of bread and a few cakes valued at T150 from a baker, then the baker takes down the butcher’s trading number and debits the butcher’s CES online account with T150. The butcher is now in debt to the CES community by T150, but when the candlestick maker approaches him to buy a beef fillet, valued at T150, the debt is then transferred. Thus the cycle of debits and credit continues; all the while leaving individuals to make purchases and fulfill needs without the overhanging worry of money.

Interesting? Of course! Viable in a money-mongering world? We weren’t sure; so we took time out of a valuable Saturday to peek in at the organisation’s once-monthly physical market, and to corner co-founder Tim Jenkin and market coordinator Liane Greef to find out why they created the system and what value it holds for community members.

A seeming oasis in the middle of the busy Rosmead Avenue in Wynberg, the Novalis Ubuntu Institute is bustling with bodies exhibiting and browsing wares. A lady is furiously rolling sushi in one corner and another is neatly organising bottles of aromatherapy oil while an alternative healer sets up in one of the rooms.

The Cape Town Talent Exchange (CTTE) is an intriguing concept, how does it work and how long has it been running in Cape Town.

TJ: The CTTE is a method of distributing goods and services without the complications of money. It’s just keeping a record of what we do for each other. Everybody’s account is either in a plus or a minus and if it’s all added together the balance is zero. The concept is really as old as humanity. The CES is a global concern with over 50 countries involved, each with their own hubs; and when we started in South Africa, we originally only had the Western Cape in mind, but once the rest of the country heard about it, there was a call to start one in Johannesburg, Durban and PE.

Do you take inventory of what is sold at the market and are there any rules for trading?

LG: When market exhibitors contact me, I make a note of what is being sold. If the market is lacking in a particular section, like food or healers, I promote that on the CES site; so I try to ensure that there’s a balance in what the market offers.

Each member has a trading slip and you have to present it when making a purchase; however, most traders know each other so well that they hardly ever ask for these slips. Nonetheless,  it is a safeguard to prevent any fraud or problems when trading. We also allow traders to trade using a combination of talents and rands, for instance, the cost to attend a workshop or healing session can be T200 and R50, but the talent to rand ratio must be in favour of the talents.

Besides that, we don’t really have any limiting rules, but we do trade ethically. No illegal trading is allowed, so we don’t condone the selling of pirated media or anything that violates the law.

What drew you to become part of the CTTE and take on the market coordinator position?

I’m an environmentalist and it disgusts me how consumerism has consumed people - individuals are just hoarding more and more “stuff”. What I love about the CTTE is how it’s a constant cycle of renewed energy. People can get rid of what they don’t use, while someone else can find new uses for an item.


The market is held at the Novalis Ubuntu Institute in Wynberg on Rosmead Avenue every third Saturday of the month.


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