No Money Guyby Christine Hogg / 08.02.2012
Whether you’re Gerald Majola or Rob Taylor, cash worries us all. Most of us can’t get enough of it, or maybe you feel that the only way of finding peace is to give some of yours away. Generally, the more you have of it, the more you’re scared of losing it. We all have that friend, who never has a cent or a cigarette, but is overly generous on payday, when he lives like a rock star for a few nights. And of course, a lot of us just find it hard to suss out a way to make bucks without doing something that’s entirely soul destroying.
Enter Adin van Ryneveld, the No Money Guy, who might have found a way of avoiding this age old problem. Adin bartendends at Penthouse on Long, in exchange for a roof over his head, as well as chow, booze and smokes. The reasons behind his five-year project of living without money, purely on barter, might have changed, but the inspiration is still ubuntu. Initially, he wanted to set up a profit-based business that gave its profits to a good cause. But doubts arose. “You know those campaigns where they say if you buy this yoghurt we’ll give five cents to this organization?” he asks while we’re having a chat on the rooftop of Penthouse on Long. “You never know if they’re doing it because they want to build houses for poor kids or if they just want to sell yoghurt.” Adin was concerned that people would mistake his altruism for a marketing strategy that feeds on guilt. At the same time, after learning about our scarily fucked-up debt-based monetary system, he noticed that giving away money won’t help anybody in the long run. He had to find a way to live without it.
When Adin started compromising with capitalism, he still largely depended on others to help him out. “If it wasn’t for other people then I wouldn’t have been able to survive,” he explains. Things such as toiletries or airtime had to be bought by helpful supporters in exchange for a service that was of value to them. Discovering the Community Exchange System was a blessing. It operates online and allows members to exchange services with a unique currency called talents. It’s not debt-based, because there’s no fear of the currency running out, as money does in a traditional economy. This in turn means that everybody has a fair chance of getting loaded. There’s no central bank to rip anyone off. What this means is, if I clean your windows, for example, my account will be credited with 100 talents, if that’s what I decide to charge, and you lose a 100 talents. As long as you have a service to offer, or an object to sell that somebody needs, you’ll be able to earn talents. This is different to our current economy in which businesses can go bankrupt simply because there’s not enough money in circulation. On top of that, everyone else has full access to your account balance, which on some level encourages members to use the services of those who don’t have it all that well, in order to help them on their feet again.
Apart from discovering CES, Adin managed to move away from upright sponging through establishing a direct exchange relationship with Penthouse on Long. He’s even offered advertising space on his right arm, for companies to tattoo their logos on, in exchange for equipment like cameras and laptops. Through launching the brand Ubuntu Digital the project has taken on even greater dimension. Buying airtime, for example, might soon be less of a problem. “Now that I have a brand, Cell C and Ubuntu Digital could go into business, for example,” he points out. It’s also a nexus point for having a lot of fun, without money. Ubuntu Digital have already thrown a series of gigs on the rooftop of Penthouse on Long and more are to come, as well as a festival that’ll take place about an hour out of Cape Town. The parties cost 100 talents to get into. If you’re not registered with CES you can do so on the spot and a 100 talents will be taken off your account. It’s important to Adin that potential supporters have a good time and realise that it’s not about an iron-willed battle against the system. “I’m not against capitalism and I’m not for it either. Actually, I’m not against anything.”
But parties are not going to resolve the disparities and injustices of the global financial system. A popular alternative exchange system, however, would be beneficial for South Africa’s communities as a sort of backup plan, for someone who has lost their job but needs their roof to be fixed, for example? Although Adin agrees, he has no intentions on focusing on township exposure at this moment. “Do you know that saying, oh you’re preaching to the choir?” He asks. “I think fucking preach to the choir and teach the choir how to sing better, get them better fucking instruments and shinier outfits so that when they sing more people wanna come and listen.” And while some may brand him a Long Street hipster activist, Adin emphasises that approval has to happen organically and that he’s not planning to change the world, but would be happy if it does change.
Adin hopes that he’ll have built enough networks to continue to live without money even after the five years are over. There’s one thing, however, that would make him ditch the project straight away. “If I had a kid, I’d start using money immediately to support them.”
*The next Ubuntu Digital party is on 11 February, featuring DJs such as Richard Marshall (sSHADOWORKSs) and Fletcher (African Dope) – and both get paid in talents.