Modeled after Bitcoin Beach, a South African township attests to the opportunities of a bootstrapped bitcoin economy.
This is an opinion editorial by Hermann Vivier, co-founder of The Surfer Kids and Bitcoin Ekasi.
Above: Aug. 5, 2021 — Bitcoin Ekasi is born.
After having bought a little bitcoin near the top in 2013 and doing my homework when the price crashed, we started accepting bitcoin payments from surf-trip clients in mid-2015.
In this way Luthando onboarded our first store (Kwallos Shop, owned by Nosihle and her husband Vuyisa) in early August 2021 and at that point we began supplementing his existing fiat salary with bitcoin, which he could now spend at that store. For two months Bitcoin Ekasi remained nothing more than that. Meanwhile, I continued to educate Luthando about all things Bitcoin and he would go into the township, spend his bitcoin salary buying groceries at Kwallos and speak to other shop owners, demonstrating and explaining the practical benefits of Bitcoin.
It took about three months to onboard the second and third store owners and, in the interim, we began paying bitcoin salaries to our three junior coaches who assisted Luthando in running The Surfer Kids’ program. Up until that point, two of them had been volunteering/working as apprentices, with the hope that we’d eventually be able to afford a salary for them.
Above – The Surfer Kids Junior Coach – Lukhangele
These sorts of experiences and practical use cases energized me because for the first time I personally witnessed a very real-world impact of what bitcoin could do in someone else’s life. I had experienced it in my own life, but actually seeing financial empowerment happening in front of my own eyes, expanded my perspective on what’s possible with bitcoin. The meme “Bitcoin fixes this” suddenly became real, as I saw it affecting seemingly unrelated social issues in positive ways.
And the more I experienced this, the more motivated I became to drive this project forward as far as possible — because it’s one thing to believe that Bitcoin can change the world, but to see it and experience it right in front of me, that really lit the orange fire inside of me.
In addition, we are now providing staff uniforms to our expanded team of coaches and lifeguards, all of whom earn 100% of their salary in bitcoin and spend it buying groceries from shops we have onboarded.
Above: Left to Right — Good Morning Shop (Michael), Good Hope Shop and Isinyoka Shop
The ultimate question, I guess, is, “Why do this?”
If you’re a Bitcoiner, you know why. But it’s my hope that regular people also read this and look at projects like ours and Bitcoin Beach and feel inspired to think deeper and further about the implications of Bitcoin on communities in South Africa and the Global South.
There are two reasons why I’m doing this. First, to support and expand upon the original aim of the The Surfer Kids’ program, which has always been about personal empowerment.
And so The Surfer Kids’ emphasis has always been on teaching the kids the value of commitment to long-term goals. As that’s the way for an individual to empower themselves: commit to something and stick with it, no matter what. Surfing is fun but inherently difficult to learn and, like Bitcoin, teaches perseverance.
However, operating The Surfer Kids for more than a decade, it’s always felt like a drop in the bucket. There are thousands of people living under horrifying circumstances in that township, and that’s just one of thousands of townships — in this country alone. And we only serve 40 kids.
Second, as mentioned earlier, this is another proof of concept. There are very few places in the world where people live under more desperate circumstances than townships such as this one. Unemployment is astronomically high. Illiteracy is rife. Most homes are in fact informal structures built from scrap material and the majority have neither running water inside their home, nor toilets or warm water.
If Bitcoin can work here and be organically adopted in a setting such as this, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be adopted anywhere else. I’d understand if an upper middle class person told me they’d prefer not to use it, for no particular reason other than preference. But don’t tell me it’s because it’s too complex or volatile. If it’s being adopted (voluntarily and with no incentive other than the utility it has to offer) in the circumstances that we’ve described here, then why not anywhere else? And everywhere else?
The fact of the matter is, those are all just excuses. People will adopt it when they need it. When they have no other choice left, bitcoin will no longer be “too complex,” “too volatile” or “only good for criminals and drug dealers.”
And that’s really been the most beautiful thing about this experience. The people whom we’ve seen adopting bitcoin, in the township, have not done so for ideological or philosophical reasons. They don’t care about our Twitter debates. We’ve seen bitcoin being adopted simply because, unlike the rest of society for whom the current system still works relatively fine, for many in this township community Bitcoin is, in many respects, simply the best available option. A personal path to greater freedom and personal responsibility is being learned, one South African at a time.
And when (not if) the current status quo fails or when there’s a major sovereign default or reserve currency crisis, those skeptics who don’t yet see its utility will begin to understand. It is only at that point where they will begin to strongly consider adopting bitcoin.
Essentially, we’re helping to get the lifeboat ready before the ship goes down. Because by the time it does go down, the lifeboat must be sailing.
This is a guest post by Hermann Vivier. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.