STORIES FROM THE FIELD
At first glance, the countries could not look more different: The land of Nelson Mandela that defeated apartheid and established a non-racial, non-sexist democracy. A hilly green realm ruled by a king with 14 wives. A formerly socialist Portuguese-speaking country with newly discovered natural gas reserves whose GDProduct is now growing by more than 8% a year. A land-locked nation with copper in its veins surrounded by most of the states in Southern Africa. But South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zambia – like their Southern African neighbors – have all been deeply affected by decades of colonial and apartheid rule.
However, the ties that bind these countries transcend the power of the apartheid government that drove liberation fighters and refugees into neighboring states — which sheltered them at the expense of their own citizens. They are rooted more deeply than in the soil and mines that have drawn impoverished workers from across the region to South Africa. Today these nations are working individually and together to turn the tide of poverty and inequality inherited from the past (and lately exacerbated by the world economy). They are united by a “shared interest” in their survival and success.
Lifelines in Swaziland and Mozambique
“Now the kids will not go hungry,” declares Lomathandazo Magagula, referring to her five children and grandchildren. She is one of 27 members of the Siyathuthuka Cooperative (literally “We are going Forward” in Siswati), which received credit from Fincorp, and training and mentorship from the NGO AfricaWorks Swaziland. Every month she stocks the chicken house she built with 3,000 day-old chicks, selling them full-grown 28 days later at a good price – four times more than she previously earned producing handicrafts for an uncertain market. It is more than enough to support her family, including her husband, who has been looking for work for many months. Together the Siyiathuthuka members plan to produce 73,000 chickens a month — 875,000 a year.
While most of Shared Interest’s 22-year history has focused on unlocking credit and boosting capacity in South Africa’s low-income communities of color, the organization has moved strategically with its South African partner, Thembani, to expand their work into Swaziland and Mozambique. At year’s end Shared Interest‘s guarantee to AfricaWorks Mozambique provided access to credit for micro-entrepreneurs in Maputo, Inhambane and Gaza Provinces. It also made loans available to smallholder farmers working one hectare of land each, along with the opportunity to share labor, tools, technical assistance and markets.
The borrowers in Gaza offer powerful proof of regional interdependence. Early in 2013, when the Limpopo River threatened to overflow its banks, South Africa faced a harrowing choice. If it left its flood gates in place, the waters would have submerged land in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Instead, it made the difficult decision to lift the floodgates, thus deluging Mozambique. Although the three days’ notice enabled the Mozambican government to prevent loss of life by moving affected communities to higher ground, local residents lost all their possessions, inundated by a seven-foot wall of water that swamped their fields and swept away their homes, harvests and animals.
What the residents of the Mozambican Chokwé district did not lose was hope. Their community ties and organization were strong, one of the factors that had enabled them to survive brutal attacks by “counter-insurgency forces” backed by South Africa and Rhodesia after Mozambique won its independence in 1975 and provided safe haven to opponents of colonial and apartheid rule in the region. When asked how they had the strength to return and plant again after the 2013 floods, the Chokwé women acknowledged AfricaWorks’ powerful support, chiefly credit in the form of loans for diesel engines to pump the water from their flooded fields. The oldest member of the group further explained the importance of their community’s strength and experience as a cooperative. “When I see my sister plant, I plant with her,” she said. “When she weeds, I weed with her. And when it is time for the harvest, we all help. We never leave anyone alone.”
Reaching the Region
South Africa’s leaders have recognized that whether from the perspective of “solidarity” or “the market,” it makes no sense for their economy to attempt to go it alone. Southern Africa’s Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan has set itself the 2015 goal of reducing the region’s 40% abject poverty rate and halving the proportion of the population living on US$1 a day. Member states have worked to build regional and continental structures and have collaborated to establish Southern Africa as a market capable of competing with more populous states. Nigeria alone has a population of 91.8 million, compared to South Africa’s 54 million. But Southern Africa’s combined population is 277 million, and a key driver of the continent’s economy. The region’s population exceeds that of two other “BRICS” countries (Brazil with 202 million and Russia with 142.3 million), though it falls short of those of India (1.3 billion) and China (1.4 billion).
To harness the region’s collective production and purchasing power, cross-border value chains are developing. Agricultural goods produced in Mozambique are processed in South Africa. South African wheat helps to feed Botswana and Lesotho. At the same time, a number of NGO’s in Southern Africa, such as AfricaWorks, are beginning to operate in neighboring countries. The same is true for the region’s larger banks, such as ABSA (Barclays Africa) and Standard Bank, which are expanding and forging cross-border partnerships. These developments provide an opportunity for Shared Interest to assist by taking what they have learned in South Africa to explore and expand in other low-income markets – and to bring some new lessons home.
Experiences in some countries are instructive to others. For example, black-owned agricultural cooperatives and associations were lifelines to Mozambicans living in contested areas of the country during and since it’s civil war. In South Africa, although white-owned cooperatives have thrived and produced mechanized, highly productive agriculture linked to commercial markets, black-owned cooperatives only came into existence after apartheid, and so have much to learn from their Mozambican neighbors.
As Shared Interest looks to our next generation of work, we are exploring partnerships in Zambia and other countries. Our roots remain deep in South African soil. But like South Africa, we are also part of the region’s narrative of power and promise – its present and future.