Savings and Credit Co-operatives first appeared in Germany in the 1870's. The idea moved to North America in 1900 with European immigration. Canada, the United States, Australia and Ireland have the most established movements. In many regions of these countries SACCOs are much larger than the commercial banks. There are 28 countries in Africa that have established credit unions. Globally there are almost 100 million individual members in 60 + countries around the world. SACCOL is a member of World Council of Credit Unions. Through this relationship SACCOL enjoys a reciprocal relationship with member countries throughout Africa and throughout the world.
SACCOL was formed in 1993. It evolved from the Cape Credit Union League (CCUL), which was formed in 1981. At this time various Catholic Church parishes decided to form Credit Unions and CCUL was formed to help them to coordinate their activities and standardise their operations. At this time though the Credit Unions were formed as social organisations and did not operate their co-operatives as businesses. This brought about a whole lot of problems. Because the Credit Unions did not pay good interest on savings but gave out loans very cheaply, members were not interested in saving with the SACCO, only getting loans from the SACCO. Without savings and shares the SACCOs were unable to grow. However, because members were enjoying the cheap loans, they did not want to change the way they operated. Without growth, it was inevitable the SACCOs would stagnate. A second problem that existed in those days were people were scared to take up leadership positions as there existed a state of emergency in the country during this period. This resulted in the ministers of the parishes taking a leadership position in the SACCO. If the minister was transferred to another parish, it would depend whether the incoming minister had knowledge about a SACCO and whether he was interested in continuing its activities.
However the idea of a SACCO grew in impoverished communities as an alternative to other savings schemes, where you could get cheap loans. In 1987, the CCUL extended its activities outside of the Western Cape Region and formed itself into the South African Credit Union League.
The problem of non-viable SACCOs still existed and in 1991, when the World Council of Credit Unions did an assessment of the viability of the movement in South Africa, they found that only three of the existing 47 SACCOs were viable.
As a result of much discussion within the movement it decided to change its entire orientation toward a business orientation. The viable co-operatives argued that making a surplus and developing strong SACCOs was in memberâ€™s interests in the longer term, rather than short-term gain of cheap loans only. Thus in 1993 the Savings and Credit Co-operative League of South Africa (SACCOL) was born.