Turning poverty around

2017-04-04 14:17
Zambian-born Audrey Mukwavi Matimelo uses the concept of ubuntu to encourage development in the rural communities of KZN.

Zambian-born Audrey Mukwavi Matimelo uses the concept of ubuntu to encourage development in the rural communities of KZN. (Ian Carbutt)

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Zambian-born Audrey Mukwavi Matimelo is making a difference in KZN’s rural communities through the Zimele Wethu Foundation, a non-profit organisation that she co-founded with her colleague Xolani Zondi in September 2015.

“I was orphaned at 18. My father died first and then my mother followed. At 18 I was left to head a household of eight.

“I found work at a local bank to sustain us and after my siblings had grown up I got the opportunity to study through a bursary from charitable organisations. When I got introduced to the self help groups concept I thought, ‘Wow, this is the solution for African communities’.

“The self help groups concept introduced to South Africa by Sinamandla, an NPO in KZN, encourages communities to work together to grow economically and socially.

“In the African context this is called ubuntu and it emphasises the fact that we are stronger together than individually.

“This is what we do as Zimele Wethu. We go into rural communities and create dialogue. The community tells us what kind of poverty they have and what they think wealth is and what assets they have.

“We then encourage them to start thinking about how they can change their poverty situation with what they have.

“So they map their community assets and we identify with them what they think can contribute to their development.

“They then group themselves according to their economic and social status. They do this as a start-off point, because I can only be free with people who are like-minded and challenged the same way I am.

“The self help groups meet weekly and each member contributes five rand as a commitment to the group.

“What we realise in this concept is that, yes the poor are poor, but they have little financially that they can use to still contribute to their well-being.

“We return to train them on a variety of sectors, including running small business enterprises, leadership skills, women empowerment and youth empowerment programmes and HIV/ Aids awareness.

“To date the self help groups have raised R495 000 collectively from those R5 weekly contributions.

“In South Africa a lot has happened to fragment communities and households. Everything is rooted in the history that the people have suffered.

“And each time we are encouraging people to participate in economies we are forgetting that they are not socially and economically powerful enough to participate in the strong economies that are currently in place.

“Because of community fragmentation, especially in rural communities the one thousand rands given by government as grants usually goes back to the city to build the city’s economy and it is not transacted among the rural people to build their economy.

“It is only when we return the economies back to the poor that we will create empowerment and wealth.

“The concept of self help groups returns that economic power to the poor because it rebuilds poor people’s economies through strong social networks with weekly savings and access to loans for small businesses and collective bargaining power for purchases and markets.”

“Self help groups also work to enhance the social capital of rural communities.

“The self help groups run community initiatives motivated by ubuntu values. With their group funds they run crèches, home-based care, care and support for orphaned and vulnerable children.

Ubuntu was not just about you and me. It was about shared economies. It wasn’t just me benefitting from you. But I could trade with you.

“So we were transferring wealth from one another.”

Matimelo came to South Africa in 2002 to pursue her studies at UKZN. She recently completed her doctorate in agriculture extension focusing on resource development.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  pmb people

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