SIHMA | Scalabrini Institute For Human Mobility In Africa

Book review - Kasinomic Revolution

The Rise of African Informal Economies

GG Alcock’s new book, Kasinomic Revolution, The Rise of African Informal Economies(Tracey McDonald publishers, 2018), requires new lens to read and appreciate the possibilities offered by and within kasinomics, that is the economic informal sector of the townships. The reader is led into the labyrinth of hawkers, spaza shops and spazarettes by the voices of some people, men and women, who have found in the informal activities a way to survive, live and even enter formal business in a successful way. But in order to appreciate the magnitude of this underground revolutionary system, one needs to be ready to leave behind traditional notions of job, profit and success, that is to abandon the dogmas of Western economy. And that is a challenge for any reader.

Alcock uses real stories, real voices to cement his thesis: we need to rethink the most basic terms of job and business, renegotiating them within the cultural and social context of the township. The Kasinomic revolution starts in the minds of those who see in selling homemade sweets or traditional dishes in the streets not just a way of making ends meet, but the possibility to improve individuals and communities at the same time. From the owner of a single spaza to that of a national business group such as Hello, everyone involved in the informal sector is responsible, in the etymological sense of the word, as he/she respondsto hostile conditions of poverty and unemployment by starting an economic activity that allows families to live, send their children to university and even expand their business to involve other people.

But to most of the protagonists (and of the readers), such activities are not recognized as ‘jobs’ or, at least ‘proper jobs’: no pay slip at the end of the month, no fixed income, no social recognition, even when the amount gained is far from being irrelevant. Kasinomic Revolutionis a passionate praise of the informal sector, which despite the huge amount of money it moves, remains invisible and underrated.

To consider township economy means to acknowledge the resilient entrepreneurship of individuals with a strong sense of community and the will to improve and contribute to other people’s lives, offering a variety of products in an exchange of Rands, trust and respect. There is human value behind any sale, resisting the temptation of commodities such as malls, cheques and ATM machines where money becomes the key for an exclusive rather than inclusive world. A revolutionary alternative is possible, Alcock affirms in his book, interviewing people, providing quotations and data, toasting to values of honesty, companionship and network. But, on the other hand, he also reveals the limitations of such revolutionary plan, namely the socio-cultural context of the township, which is peculiarly local as shows the failed attempt by a multinational group to take on the market of a local product. On the other hand, success can depend on smart strategies employed by multinational companies which invest in the informal sector: their support is important, but it is not clear to what extent it can really improve people’s lives without perpetrating the rich-poor opposition upon which capitalism is founded. A more accurate and detailed analysis of this aspect would be very welcome, as in the book the Kasinomic world remains trapped within the boundaries of single stories, representing a fragmented picture calling for a more systemic and structured framework where the (South) African informal economy could really make the revolution it longs for.

- Written by Maria Taglioli

Scalabrini Centre Cape Town has also made a video about spaza. To watch it, click the following link:


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