Choosing her own path: Part 2

by Mihle Mapoma
20 March 2024
20 March 2024

Financial freedom


In part one of this story about Sibongile Mntungwa, she described the constraints of growing up and being a women in rural KwaZulu-Natal, where abduction for marriage still happens. She too was abducted but managed to escape. Twenty five years later she’s an advocate for the empowerment of  girls and women, and she believes savings groups are a powerful tool for making that possible.


Sibongile Mntungwa joined a SaveAct savings group a decade ago. “Coming from communities and families that are struggling, we do not know how to save. I didn’t know how to save. The only thing I knew how to do was to take care of my siblings“ she said. The second of nine children, her only focus was taking her siblings to school and supporting them through their tertiary education. This was her idea of how things were going to change.

“I was never taught how to handle money, what kind of relationship I should have with money etc,” she said. One thing that existed at the time was stokvels. “We knew stokvels well, and had so many thoughts about them, like why people would buy a bulk of food that sometimes rots because there’s too much of it.”

“SaveAct came as a breath of fresh air. It was different in the way that it said ‘you can save’. That ability, that freedom, to understand that you can save. It’s three simple words, you can save. But I think it’s deeper than that, because it changes the way you look at money. It changes the way you think about your power with regards to money. Those are the words that changed my life,” she said.

“SaveAct made us think that we can save. And not just save for food, which is important, but save for something in your heart. SaveAct made it possible for me to save for something that was in my heart. What is in the heart of a woman? A mother? It’s to have shelter. That was something I struggled with for 40 years – how could I have shelter? People said, ‘well you should’ve done this and that’, but it didn’t happen because I didn’t know how to save for shelter, and I always thought it was difficult.”

When SaveAct came to her community, Mrs Mntungwa joined a group of people who were saving and looking for new ways to improve their lives. They were women who were saving to take their children to school, improve their households or buy a wardrobe. They were saving for something that showed they were thinking, ‘I am not just waiting for my husband, or my partner. I am able to do something myself.” Mrs Mntungwa said she joined the kind of women who thought: “My husband came home and I had a wardrobe, a stove, pots and pans. I got satisfaction. It’s a new thing I am learning. I am satisfied, but my household status is increased because I am not just a receiver. I am a creator of some small change, with my own money.’’

Referring back to her story of saving for a house, Mrs Mntungwa said “it’s still a tiny three-bedroom, with a kitchen and small lounge – but it’s mine, and it came through saving. The main thing is that the house is mine. It’s something that I tell my kids; I say ‘that house is yours. That’s your home’,” she said, choking back tears. “It makes me emotional because it is huge to me. To think of other women who desire a home, a house, they will understand what it means. A place to retire to at the end of the day. A place to go to whenever, and say ‘this is my home’. That is a story that SaveAct deserves credit for.”

Mrs Mntungwa added: “This is for anyone who has dreams. SaveAct supports dreams. Some people come into SaveAct, not really knowing what their dream is. Those people learn along the way that you can’t just save money for the sake of it – you have to save this money for something that you’ll treasure.”

“A house is a big dream for most. For others it’s having one’s own garden. Then one is able to understand that you don’t just have to garden for you and your family alone, if you can save and grow your garden to a level where it starts making money. “It doesn’t matter how small the income is, that’s where people get it wrong. What matters is that it’s yours. If you earned it, if you made it, it’s yours. That’s another thing SaveAct has done. It says ‘you can get all the grants and all the help you need, and it’s fine, but don’t depend on that. Create something more than that. I think that is what savings groups have done. People ask themselves what they can do, what they can create, using their savings, and I think SaveAct has helped a lot with that.”

Saving is important, but particularly saving in a group. Not only is it community building, but also forces accountability. “The money payment is the last thing. What the sessions begin with, is everything about how we are,” she said. “People talk about things they don’t get to talk about in their every-day lives. They solve issues, they know someone’s listening to them, and that they’re not on their own with whatever they’re facing.”

“It’s no longer about the money – it’s about the relationship that people have. Saving together is social capital, which is so important for communities. ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ (a person is a person because of other people).”

Mrs Mntungwa touched on the importance of the loan system. This works on a three-month payback basis, at a set 10% interest on the total amount. It is always appreciated by members, as loan sharks are, at minimum, charging 40% interest. “Financially, when you have issues in your household, you go back to that group and ask ‘can I borrow?’. It’s nice to know that I can go to a place, and people that trust me will give me this money, because I belong.”

Agroecology, climate change and Just Transition

Savings, agroecology and climate change cannot be separated. “People are in agroecology because it is cheaper to farm in an agroecological way you use what is there,” she said. This is what climate change adaptation promotes – to use what is in your surroundings. In the agroecological farming space, people aren’t farming for food only; they also think about what the agricultural inputs do to climate change. They understand that agroecology is a way to deal with climate change. “They become so proud that they aren’t just farmers, but are also helping fix the global problem that is climate change.” Savings comes in where people have to buy seeds, seedlings, fencing etc. They cannot achieve a successful garden if they don’t have these inputs.

Mrs Mntungwa said “SaveAct is at a very opportune moment to teach us how to transition in a balanced way.” She believes that if the gains that are made in climate change adaptation don’t include financial stability for those who need it, it will be difficult for them to achieve it on their own. “That’s why I think some communities, or people, don’t want to work on those climate strategies, because they don’t think of it as their immediate need, (unlike) food and finances.” She said SaveAct is bringing the financial capital that people need and this will create sustainably for climate change strategies, going forward.

She also think SaveAct’s methodology is not only for the poor. She has seen that many people in savings groups are government employees, teachers and police personnel. “Even the middle-class are struggling, and it has helped a lot of them save money.”

WLTP is working on introducing a savings programme for girls and women that will include entrepreneurship training, and Mrs Mntungwa thinks the saving methodology should be spread even further. She believes SaveAct can change the narrative for savings in South Africa. “We want to see change at a household level, at a community level. We want change that we can touch, and I think SaveAct is able to give that. It is on the right track.”


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