‘Let’s eat together’

‘Let’s eat together’

MASERU-THE old adage “unity is strength” has proved true for some impoverished villagers in Ha-Thetsane who, after pooling their little resources together, are realising their dreams.
Mpoetsi Sekoai always dreamt of completing the house she started building in 2016, but her small earnings continuously proved a stumbling block.
Then she joined fellow villagers to form Ha re jeng kaofela (Let’s eat together), a savings group.

Sekoai, a factory worker at the Thetsane Industrial Area, is over the moon after she finally managed to complete the three-roomed house.
She had been sharing a rented two roomed house in Ha-Thetsane with her two sisters, a grandchild, her two children and a niece whose father was shot dead in 2013.
“There was no privacy for the family,” she says, adding that medical bills and being the family breadwinner wore her down before joining the savings club in 2019.

Like many impoverished Basotho, approaching a bank or a microfinance institution for a loan was not an option.
“I was earning too little and had too many commitments that I doubted I would be able to pay back the money with the interest required on time. The savings group afforded me a platform to pool my resources together with those of my group mates to achieve my goals,” Sekoai says.

“I was so happy. Finally, I had managed to build a house. My family would have a place they can call home,” Sekoai says.
The new house has cushioned her against the economic ravages associated with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Covid-19 pandemic made things difficult but I am grateful that I no longer have rent as an expense,” Sekoai says.
Despite the financial difficulties caused by Covid-19, the savings group seems to be weathering the storm with some innovation.

When it became apparent that almost all members were negatively affected by the pandemic, the group decided to postpone sharing the money in December to early March this year.
On Saturday, each member received no less than M20 000.
This money, Sekoai says, would go towards planning for the future.
“I am going to start working on a retirement plan, I am not getting any younger,” says the 49-year-old.

“I don’t think I will ever stop becoming a member, I look at my achievements and those of my group mates and see that the future ahead is a better one. My only regret is that the savings group started late,” Sekoai says.
A 25-year-old civil engineering graduate from the Lerotholi Polytechnic, Koetle Koetle, walked away with almost M35 000.

Koetle joined the group last year with the hope of raising capital for his chicken business.
“After graduating I realised that getting a job was almost impossible. I had to come up with ways to generate revenue,” Koetle says.
In 2019, he worked as a driver delivering vehicle spare parts to as far as Butha-Buthe and Mohale’s Hoek.
“Due to Covid-19 that contract came to an end and my parents assisted me with the financial contributions to the group. Today I am now able to invest in a chicken business,” Koetle says.

The savings group chairperson, ‘Matseko Sekhamothoane, says she is proud of the resilience showed by group members in the face of coronavirus challenges.
“Last year was a terrible year financially, with job losses and border closures. Even those who were self-employed suffered,” Sekhamothoane says.

“Despite all challenges we still managed to raise M359 806 which is more than the M310 585 we raised in 2019. This is a clear indication of our commitment and discipline towards achieving our goals.”
Challenges remain though, including the withdrawal of some members along the way.

“There were 23 of us when we started but only 21 made it to the end. Some failed to pay back money the club lent to them and that affected our shares,” she says.
She adds that the guidance and constant supervision offered by Caritas, a union of 162 national Catholic relief and development agencies working across the world, was “of significance”.

According to Mahasela Nkoko, Caritas Lesotho supervisor, the organisation aims at establishing a culture of saving among Basotho.
“When we carried out research before adopting the Caritas model, we found out that our people did not have a saving culture,” Nkoko says.
“Those who had were not disciplined but we have seen serious improvements,” he says.

In 2019, 17 savings groups managed to raise about M2.5 million.
“This year due to Covid-19 we had about two or three groups that defaulted. Also we saw more members unsubscribing from these groups due to loss of jobs. However, the ones who stuck it out like Ha re Jeng Kaofela performed well,” Nkoko says.

He says this pointed to improved financial literacy among locals.
“They now know why they are saving or borrowing. We want to see more and more businesses coming out of these groups,” Nkoko says.
Tailoring, baking, property, processing, chicken and pig rearing are some of the popular businesses started with money saved through the groups, he says.

“We are really proud of these achievements,” Nkoko says, adding that Caritas planned to forge partnerships with banks to assist people become part of the formal banking system and establish businesses.
“Mostly what we need is to access investment opportunities, assisting these groups to buy shares or to invest in businesses so that jobs and generational wealth can be created,” Nkoko says.

Only 38 percent of Basotho have access to a bank account, according to research.
But for those who are members of savings groups such as Ha re jeng kaofela seem to have found a way to achieve their dreams, without support from banks.

Group members have been using their proceeds to build homes, buy cars, starting businesses or sending their children to school, says the group’s chairperson, Matseko Sekhamothoane.
“Most of these things would have been impossible to achieve if we were saving individually, while bank charges are too high for most of us,” she says.
“Indeed, if we want to go further, we should walk together,” Sekhamothoane says.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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