Leonard Ncube,Victoria Falls Reporter
FINANCIAL literacy is a virtue that can be learnt regardless of social status or occupation. Many women have learnt to make money through stokvel, an invitation-only club where members form a saving scheme by contributing to a central fund on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis.
Stokvels are popular in South Africa where the name originated from the term “stock fairs” as the rotating cattle auctions of English settlers in Eastern Cape were known in the early 19th Century.
In Zimbabwe, several informal saving schemes exist although many falter along the way for various reasons.
But for Big Mothers Victoria Falls, stokvel has become a sustainable source of livelihood.
Established close to a decade ago by 10 women, Big Mothers Victoria Falls’ membership has now grown to 25, including two men. Ages range between 35 and 55.
Some of the members have bought cars, housing stands, constructed houses, started businesses and pay school fees for their children from earnings from the saving scheme.
While many people would think that one needs to be employed to have income or should have start-up capital to start a business, some women mobilise income for their families through such self-help clubs.
In some cases, self-help clubs and burial societies members drag each other to the Civil Court especially around end of year for theft of trust property after they dupe each other.
Big Mothers Victoria Falls chairperson Ms Sehlile Nkomo said honesty and transparency are key in stokvel.
“We started seven years ago with 10 members and have grown to 20 members although we have added five more who will start contributing this coming January. When we started we called ourselves Big Mothers not because we wanted people who are big in stature but we wanted a mother who would afford to contribute US$30 per week,” said Ms Nkomo.
The contributions were later reduced to US$20 per week because of challenges with the multi-currency system.
Each member contributes US$20 per week which translates to US$80 per month and about US$1 000 per year after an average 50 to 53 weeks in a year.
At the end of the year contributors get US$1 000 accumulated from their monthly contributions as year’s savings.
Failure by a member to contribute attracts a fine of US$25 for the particular month.
The members also contribute US$15 per month which is used to buy groceries that they share at the end of the year.
The club plans to expand outside Victoria Falls.
It is made up of mostly married women with a few others who are single.
Members apply for loans which they repay within 30 days at zero interest.
“We are business minded people who share ideas and opportunities whenever we meet. We are Big Mothers only in name because we have two male members”.
“We appreciate members for showing honesty and transparency as we have never had problems emanating from dishonesty. Generally, we want people who are active and trustworthy as long as one can afford the weekly contributions,” said Ms Nkomo.
“We want to show the world that women can make it in life despite challenges like Covid-19. We have plans to expand the club to empower other women,” explained Ms Nkomo.
She said members have learnt not to borrow from loan sharks and micro finance institutions whose interest rates are exorbitant.
“We have different life problems that require money and this club has been helpful to us as members and our families because no one goes to loan sharks or micro finance houses to get a loan,” she said.
To get a loan a member notifies the club a week in advance. They used to meet once on Saturdays but because of the lockdown, the club members last had a physical meeting in March until last weekend when they held an end of year party to share the money and groceries from the year’s contributions.
Each member got groceries that include two boxes of cooking oil, two cases of sugar, two cases of rice, a box of soap, pots and other items.
The club is made up of people from different professions including teachers, businesspersons, landladies, city council workers, tourism employees, vendors and office workers, said executive member Ms Gugulethu Ndlovu.
“2020 has been a very difficult year hence we decided to share our earnings in style to celebrate how we managed to pull through despite the economic challenges. This is the first time we have held an end of year party to share our year’s savings,” said Ms Ndlovu
She said some members especially those employed in the tourism industry struggled during the year because of the lockdown which left many of them jobless but they managed to pull through as a result of encouragement and teamwork from other members of the club.
The club plans to start a burial society for members and their beneficiaries.
“We want to recruit more members and end up with three groups of 25 each including youths. We are thinking of establishing a burial society for Big Mothers. It’s something we have agreed on and we are finalising modalities and terms of reference. We also want to be able to fundraise as a group into a pool account and share the savings at the end of the year, as part of extended activities of the club,” said Ms Ndlovu.
The club has become a platform for women empowerment through education and other engagements.
Mrs Rosa Mumpande is one of the members whose livelihood has improved as a result of the club.
Ms Sisa Ndlovu who joined the club in 2013 said she and her husband have built a house and bought a car using savings from the club.
“I bought a stand in 2015 and finished building the house in 2017 using money from the club. I started a business at the flea market and we have bought another stand and a car. One of my children is at Midlands State University and we have been paying her fees using savings from the club,” she said. — @ncubeleon