A self-empowerment project initiated five years ago is improving the lives of 600 women in Swayimane, a disadvantaged community in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
It is through the Zimele Self Help and Savings programme that the women have been able to start their own small businesses, hailed as successful by the provincial department of finance.
The scheme focuses on saving money for wise investments. And so encouraged, the women were able to save more than R170 000 (US$24 000) from their pockets, over the five years of the scheme’s existence.
Together with loans amounting to R292 932 ($41 000), the savings fund bankrolled the women’s budding enterprises.
They are now running “successful businesses” in agriculture, crafts, retail and catering. They are also a driving force behind emerging cultural guesthouses in their area.
The group recently sold craft products to the value of R300 000 ($42 000) at an international trade market.
Learning business, financial and social skills
Zimele Self Help and Savings is an initiative of Zimele, a non-profit organisation that seeks to improve the quality of life in KwaZulu-Natal’s rural areas. Zimele aptly means “I am self-reliant” in the local isiZulu language.
The participating women have empowered themselves with financial, business and social skills “that saw them get out of the cycle of poverty in a deeply impoverished village”, said the finance department.
“I have learned a lot from this saving initiative. Zimele is organising people who come and buy from us, now I can take my children to school and buy food for them too,” Qaphelani Dlamula, a member of the Zimele Self Help and Savings group, said in a statement.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Finance, Ina Cronjé, said the project’s success can be attributed to her department’s campaign that encourages responsible spending. Cronjé honoured the women at an event held at Swayimane Community Hall on 23 August.
“This is visible proof of what we have been going around preaching in the province - encouraging people to save and use their savings to create a better future for themselves and their families,” said Cronjé.
"Every man and woman should know how much money comes to their household, how much goes out and how much is saved,” she added. “It is important for families to sit together, especially with their children, so that they will not make unnecessary demands."
Caring for the community
Zimele Self Help and Savings has also started two early education centres in the poverty-stricken area, where they offer “quality education and day care” to at least 45 children.
“Parallel to their businesses, these women have become involved in initiatives to help orphaned and vulnerable children in their community,” said Rosetta Stander, Zimele’s founder and director.
“They are feeding the children using their own resources, rebuilding the dilapidated mud houses where the children live, and providing them with emotional support and encouragement,” Stander added.
Enrolling for ABET
Financial illiteracy – which, according to the department, was worsened by very low levels of education – compounds socio-economic challenges in the area.
Zimele encouraged the women to enrol for their nearest adult basic education and training (ABET) programme in a bid to eradicate illiteracy.
Zimele’s Sebenzani Meyiwa has been described as a “shining example” of how uneducated elders can empower themselves through ABET.
“If I want to run a successful business, I have to be able to read and write,” she said.