SaveAct operations manager for KwaZulu-Natal Dr Sazile Mtshali
has a PhD focused on rural livelihoods in KwaZulu-Natal. She also has many years’ experience of teaching in the field of rural development, including agriculture and home economics. To commemorate Women’s Day 2016, Dr Mtshali shares her reflections on the value of SaveAct’s work for its female members and why she’s proud of the work she does.
Q: What is the biggest impact of SaveAct’s work in the lives of women?
A: SaveAct gives women greater control over their finances. We find that most of the women who join have never been taught how to budget and tend to spend money, if they have it, without a plan. Through financial education, we teach them the value of financial discipline and control.
Q: I understand that many women in rural areas borrow from mashonisas or moneylenders at extortionate rates of interest. Does this reliance change with membership of SaveAct?
A: Yes, most are often in debt on joining SaveAct. The model offers a module in debt management so they learn to reduce those debts until they are completely paid off. Then, as members of the savings group, they can borrow from their own group at much more reasonable interest rates and with more confidence.
Q: Paying off debts must give members a real sense of satisfaction. Is that something you’ve observed?
A: Definitely. The women express a range of positive impacts, including greater self-esteem. They feel a greater sense of security in the group where they can save, take loans and pay them over a short period. That boosts their confidence enormously. Being able to make informed decisions about how to spend their money means they become more self-reliant. They tell us that SaveAct has given them greater independence from their male partners or husbands.
Q: What effect does group membership have beyond the financial aspects?
A: We find that the women respond well to working in a group, showing unity, trust and a commitment to helping each other. Beyond the saving and borrowing, they also come together to address broader social issues. In groups you sometimes have conflict but with the training from SaveAct, all members understand the model’s guidelines.
Generally, the group offers social support, giving members an opportunity to talk about the challenges they face as individuals and as a group. Another lesson from the experience is that members learn to be punctual. They learn discipline and commitment too. If you are late for your meeting, you are fined; if you miss a meeting without sending an apology you are also fined. The women are encouraged to take responsibility.
Q: What do women tend to save money for?
Generally, members report seeing poverty reduced in the family household. They are able to borrow to buy food for the whole month, or go to a doctor and buy medication if necessary. Food security is improved as is access to health care.
Some members pay for their children’s education, taking loans to pay registration fees for tertiary studies and the costs related to that process before the NSFAS loans are disbursed.
In some areas, women have used their savings groups to purchase agricultural inputs for small-scale agriculture production. In areas like Msinga where they sell their produce along the side of the roads and in front of shops.
In the first year or so, most members use their money to improve existing housing structures – either to expand their houses or convert mud houses to brick. Furniture and other household goods are purchased. As they build up confidence, they tend to become more ambitious and consider investing in small-scale enterprise development.
Q: What gives you satisfaction in your work with SaveAct?
The women who come forward to be members of SaveAct-led savings groups are often semi-literate and have never received the kind of training they need to manage their money. I think SaveAct offers a form of sustainable empowerment for these women. What is also encouraging is that these women can take what they’ve learnt and teach their own children not to waste money and how to use it wisely by budgeting and planning. This work makes a difference.