Twenty mamas, some heartsore, many excited, wrote history on February 17 around a conference table at the Lutheran Youth Centre in Athlone, Cape Town, when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding to merge their national savings schemes into the new organization Poor Women’s Movement. “We trust we will work very well together,” said Marlene Don, founder of the Poor People’s Movement (PPM) which comprises 6500 savers in 75 urban areas in the country. After years of contemplation, she finally urged her members to give up their organizational identity. “It’s about what the communities need, not about FEDUP, PPM or ISN,” agreed Rose Molokoane, Chair of the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP). “Let us use the opportunity and strategize together how we make it happen in unity.”
The Informal Settlement Network which has been working in close cooperation with FEDUP throughout the country, will “evaluate and assimilate” the merger of the two women’s organizations at a meeting next month, says Zulu Mzwanele, ISN representative of the Western Cape. “We are pleased to hear about this decision, which will strengthen our network, as their members are fully supporting our agenda.”
For twenty years, FEDUP has pioneered a collaborative solution that can transform our cities: empowering poor people to help themselves, teach themselves, and develop themselves. FEDUP has empowered hundreds of communities to start savings schemes, develop their own knowledge and capacities, build houses, and acquire land.
Founded as the South African Homeless People’s Federation in 1991, after shack dwelling communities here interacted with slum dwellers from India, FEDUP has worked with the South African government to find constructive, constituency-driven solutions to the problems of the poor. FEDUP has facilitated the building of more than 12,000 houses and secured land for almost 20,000 families.
The “marriage” as the merger was referred to at the Athlone meeting will strengthen savings especially in the Free State, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and Kimberley. Audit teams and regional committees will monitor the improvement of savings. The general consensus was to go back to the roots and serve the poor with loans for illness, education and food. Only when the people on the ground benefit from the savings, they will start put money aside themselves. “Even the very poor can save,” explained Molokoane. “But we must advise them why and how. Then the whole community will come to us.”
It is the women’s role to go from house to house and bring the people together. Once ISN – traditionally run by male leaders – has mobilized the community, the savings teams must follow and create safe spaces, build houses and uplift families, Molokoane said. “We become easily fed-up”, she joked. “We are turning ourselves into handlangers, whereas we should be enumerators and builders. It is a weakness to wait until we are being officially invited to do our work.”
However, it does not seem that any more time is being wasted. The action plan is ready, and at a national Lekotla meeting the deal will be sealed. The new mama’s movement is ready to fight the battle their way: ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo – the highest form of war is dialogue.