STORIES FROM THE FIELD
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Lambasi- Tradition Meets the Market
In the heart of Pondoland, in the Eastern Cape, Bulelwa Sitshivele, a member of the Lambasi Tribal Council, summed up the benefits of her community’s new maize project: “We are able to eliminate hunger and poverty in our community, and do things for ourselves.” Shared Interest’s $560,000 guarantee, facilitated and technically supported by its South African partner Thembani, has unlocked a $757,000 loan for the initiative.
Like other tribal communities, the Lambasi have lived on collectively owned land, long before Europeans came to South Africa. Although their land is rich, they have been unable to access commercial loans, since South African law prohibits using traditional land as collateral. This makes it difficult for them to grow to the scale required to enter mainstream markets. For such communities, guarantees are useful for unlocking credit to modernize farming practices and increase the land that can be cultivated.
The project is currently empowering the community to grow 1730 acres of maize, with the goal of producing enough to transform the economy of the area, and lives of its people. Advisors provide technical assistance and market linkages to the growers, helping them use more productive and sustainable farming methods, fertilizer and tools, and connecting them to commercial markets. The vigorous expansion of the cultivated areas and elevated maize price this season, due to drought in other areas, bode well for their profits.
The community was reduced to poverty during apartheid, despite their vast holdings of rich, arable land. Many members are still impoverished and illiterate. The apartheid government helped itself to their land (and physically moved many residents) when it chose. After 1994, the Department of Land Affairs restored the land to Lambasi, and paid each household R30,000.
Over the years, to support their families, many of the community’s men sought work in faraway cities and mines. Many returned from the mines after having been retrenched, or sickened with TB or silicosis. Some, like Tribal Council member Langa “Jackson” Dana, became active in unions and the United Democratic Front, which rallied civil society to oppose apartheid. After years as an activist, being arrested and severely tortured by the apartheid police, Mr. Dana returned to Lambasi to earn a living at home – and to continue the struggle to make the rights affirmed in the Freedom Charter and 1996 Constitution a reality for all South Africans.
A New Paradigm
Cognizant of the miners’ plight, the mining giant Anglo American established the Anglo Zimele Fund to support economic development in such areas. When Anglo Zimele presented a maize-growing project technically supported by TechnoServe, the community eagerly launched it.
During its first year, with limited funds before the guarantee, the project benefited 406 members using 200 hectares of community land. The second year, with additional finance unlocked by Thembani’s facilitation and a Shared Interest guarantee, the project grew to recruit 354 more community members, who cultivated an additional 500 hectares of maize and 150 hectares of beans. Participating members received salaries, R700 “rent” for each hectare they made available, and 15 bags of grain after the harvest.
“Other projects that have come here in the past did everything for the people.” said Chief Mkwedini. “When the project was over, they pulled out and the project died. Success will come when people are taught to manage the project themselves in a business-like manner.”
The women of the Tribal Council noted “It gave us the opportunity as women to contribute to running our homes and working our land – and showing men that we could.”
Livelihoods on the Land
Shared Interest and Thembani are no strangers to the area, as last year our guarantee facilitated the building of the area’s first secondary school. When we told the tribal council that our guarantee had also helped make the school possible, they burst into applause.
The project also has the capacity to finance higher education, and create livelihoods on the land. Novuyisile Dukuza reflected, “My 25 year-old daughter helped with the harvest and earned money. But if the project got bigger, she could earn money to go back to school.” Khayakazi elaborated, “This is a good learning experience. And in the future, our children will be running the project, instead of going to Johannesburg to work far from their families.”
Grist for the Mill
The Chief stressed the need to build the capacity and capital of the Lambasi. “We want our people to be taught how to buy fertilizer, like a community business, and also to advise others how to plant. I see this community owning tractors and other kinds of equipment, with no need to hire them from the outside.”
With enhanced production, the Lambasi will be able to reactivate the maize mill that has lain dormant on their land for years. A refurbished mill, with ample produce, will demonstrate what the people can do for themselves, and add value to other communities’ maize.
The lesson is not lost on Lambasi’s neighbors. “Almost daily I get calls from other communities asking for the name of this god we are worshipping!” the Chief reported. “They say, ‘this god is working!’ I say that in time they will also benefit. But empowerment begins at home.”