Nearly all Batswana have embraced cooperative savings as investment schemes, especially low-income earners and women. This has become the lifeblood of many so much that it has transformed into more of a lifestyle and less of a practice. Around this time of the year, every year, stacks of cash, foodstuffs, kitchenware and other items are being distributed among members, as ‘dividends’. Mmegi staffers, BABOKI KAYAWE, MPHO MOKWAPE and correspondent NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE take a deeper look into motshelo
Cooperative savings societies are critical for many Batswana having been in existence since time immemorial. Thousands of families have made ends meet through these simple financial models. Some single-mother households have raised children through metshelo, while for others they are a source of above market returns and informal sector wealth creation. Metshelo come in all shapes and types.
Unemployed single mother of four, Bontle Ramoeti, 29, from Gabane is one of the many people who benefit from motshelo. She has been a member of a savings cooperative for three years running.
“I have been in my motshelo group for some time. Ke a itse gore fela jaaka dingwaga tse di fitileng re a go kgaogana madi a rona sentle ko ntle ga mathata ape,” she says.
Along with nine of her neighbours and relatives that make up the group, Bontle contributes P100 monthly, translating into annual individual dividends of P1,200. She says in addition, every member borrows money, which earns 30 percent interest per month, adding to the annual revenues.
“If you are committed to the scheme then you will enjoy motshelo. The more I borrow and pay my motshelo debts, the more I make money. That means at the end of the year I will benefit a lot, as I would have raised a lot of money. I can also lend to those I trust to maximise my share at the end of the year,” she says cheerfully.
As a way of safeguarding against bad creditors, the society stops lending out money in August in recognition of the fact that customers likely have other financial obligations to attend to towards the year end. Bontle states that some debtors introduced this principle to curb inter-group conflicts arising from non-payment.
The society is profitable she says.
“I have been able to buy some grocery and clothes for my four children and myself. I have also saved for January. Fa motho a bua ka go chona ka January ke a bo ke ipotsa gore o bua ka eng,” she says.
Thirty-four-year-old Setlhamo Motshwaredi, and Onalenna Bogosi, 36, have never been part of metshelo. However, the two men who reside in Tsolamosese are interested in joining next year after realising that the scheme pays off.
“My friends and relatives are walking away with a lot of money ranging from P7,000 to P10,000 and I envy them very much! Imagine what I would do with that money,” says Setlhamo.
He adds that he has already found partners for next year’s motshelo.
For his part, Onalenna says motshelo is ideal for him, especially that he never receives an annual bonus at work. “I would use my share to supplement my budget, which worsens during the festive season.
“In addition, low-income earners would be able to raise money to build houses and achieve what upper economic class people have,” he says.
They both have savings accounts with the Botswana Savings Bank, but incur bank charges and administration fees, which are non-existent in the case of motshelo. According to the duo, bank savings are not as profitable as motshelo given the fact that acquiring loans from the society is very convenient.
Both say that unlike in banks, just saying that you have an emergency and are in urgent need of cash is enough.
Kitchenware and Furniture
Gaboratanelwe Keolopile, a 25-year-old shop assistant, has benefited greatly from the kitchen and furniture cooperative variety of metshelo.
“At work we used to contribute P100 monthly and bought each other plates, dinner sets, pots and other kitchen utensils. That helps a lot as at the end of the year, you would be able to show people what you have been working for,” Keolopile says.
The society also runs a furniture-oriented motshelo, which she has recently left. “We had a furniture motshelo where we contributed fluctuating amounts based on the needs of the person who benefit in a given month,” she says.
Keolopile takes after her mother, Galefele, who has been an active motshelo member for more than a decade now. The family has benefited from kitchen top-ups, grocery, chairs and financial metshelo.
“I work at Ipelegeng, but look at me now. I have built my family a big house and have been able to sustain them,” she says.
Maria Bogatsu together with her five friends set up a society to assist each other build houses because while they were all allocated land, they did not have the finances to develop it.
“After we finish with bricks, we buy other building materials such as doors, roof materials and others. This initiative has helped us a lot and we intend to build every member a house,” Bogatsu says.
Rutang Mosokwane, 54, and Onneile Ramodisa, 35, are in a very jovial mood as they drive off from Trade World, a wholesaler in Gaborone West. Their small white van seems barely capable of bearing the weight of the stacks of mealie meal, rice, sorghum, litres of cooking oil, infinite cans of beef and other tinned goods.
A casual observer could easily mistake the scene for a stock-take or inventory being transported to some remote rural outpost, serviced once in a blue moon.
Instead the mountain of grocery is the physical manifestation of an idea born seven years ago among five Tlokweng College of Education workers, eager to fight off rising costs of living.
Mosokwane, Ramodisa and three other colleagues established the cooperative society contributing a meagre P150. The sum was revised as time went on the P240 they are currently paying, explains Mosokwane, who is the treasurer.
“Each member contributes P240 monthly and at the end of the year we buy groceries and share the items equally among us,” he says.
The food items usually sustain the members until March the following year. Some of the groceries are taken to their home villages while the rest remain in Gaborone. Mosokwane says he is a lifelong member of cooperative savings schemes and applauds them for their benefits.
“The only thing I will worry about in 2015 will be relish,” he smiles.
“Motshelo allows us to channel money to other crucial projects because food for the festive season and the first quarter of the New Year is taken care of.”
The father of four says he has been able to develop his plot in Tlokweng thanks to the investment scheme. He says the cooperative saving society for grocery has conditioned him such that every December, he does not stress about food. Instead, he ventures in other projects such as buying more livestock for his cattle-post.
The scheme has also been beneficial to Ramodisa, a mother of three. She sums up the advantages of motshelo. “I have learned to save, as well to commit to tasks much better since being part of this scheme,” she says. She is currently building her own house in her home village in the Bobirwa area.
As if that was not adequate, the same group also started a similar project catering for toiletries in 2007. This one has an additional member, also from work.
“We realised the need to expand our motshelo and hence introduced the toiletry dimension to it. Here, each member contributes P150, and we buy toiletry in bulk every six months,” says Mosokwane.
“We noted that toiletry was expensive, especially the items children use on a daily basis such as shoe polish, soap and body lotions.”
Ramodisa says motshelo has helped her immensely because the toiletries last for a long time. The open secret to a successful motshelo, as explained by Ramodisa, is to recruit trustworthy, ethical members with good values. She adds, these must be people who are easy to reach such as co-workers.
“This is a saving scheme hence trust and honesty are critical among those that join. The other essential aspects are constant communication and thorough book keeping processes,” she says.
Even as members extol the wonders of metshelo, things can and often do go very wrong. There is a downside, as some members have discovered.
In May this year, a 28-year-old man received four strokes on his behind for assaulting a mother and her daughter during an argument over metshelo funds.
In fact, community police say fights between cooperative society members often spill over into law enforcement, after failing to find relief in the founding constitution.
“The cases involve someone misusing, abusing or stealing members funds,” one official says.
“Money is a sensitive area and there will always be accusations of theft and abuse.”
In addition, some members of metshelo struggle to see what they have been investing in at the end of the year.
The value of whatever investment has been made, becomes difficult for them to see when the motshelo has performed below expectations.