If you are planning a festive season celebration this December, there is a better-than-even chance that you are banking in part on the windfall from your Motshelo.
In Botswana nothing answers the in sadness and in joy clich├® like Motshelo, a homegrown association of colleagues united voluntarily to meet their common economic needs through a jointly-owned enterprise.
Bails of sugar, tea leaves, mealie meal and baking powder from an association of “friends-in ÔÇôneed” that goes by names such as Fifing go tshwarana ka kobo Burial Society, Matlo goswa Mababi Burial Society or something along those lines are now as much part of Botswana funerals as are coffins.
Dikeledi Goitsemang who owns a popular hair salon in Gaborone gushes with zeal when she talks about the role of Motshelo in keeping society together. “Metshelo have become more than just saving money for groceries, the festive season or to get through January. “Metshelo also contribute to the empowerment of women. They play a role in promoting savings as being instrumental in the empowerment of women┬¡. Women in metshelo do not have to depend on their spouse for contributions; their participation in motshelo empowers them to the extent that they break away from a culture of dependence on men. Metshelo are also not only about women gathering for the purpose of saving money, members of metshelo are there for each other and are supportive of one another when faced with hardships such as the death of a loved one.” She says metshelo establish social networks and friendships, which provide a forum for discussing personal lives and other issues, thus learning from each other’s experiences. Friendships are established or strengthened from these conversations that take place at metshelo meetings “she says.
This tradition goes back ages, to the elderly coming together during the ploughing season and taking turns helping each other plough and harvest. As Botswana evolved from a generally agrarian community to a cash society, the Motshelo shape shifted with the social station of its members. Among young professional it is used to pool investment capital. Having identified Motshelo as a growth niche in the market, Banks are now coming to the party, turning the traditional camaraderie into an investment vehicle. Barclays Bank Botswana launched its Motshelo product in September 2012, providing a formal banking avenue for thousands of previously unserved Batswana in the savings cooperatives. Barclays Bank Botswana Product Manager Shepherd Kgafela says Barclays had come to the rescue, establishing a product it described as a “safe place,” for metshelo. “We realized that people are trying to make life easier for themselves through motshelo but the traditional way of saving is not safe because they normally keep their money at home which is risky, also keeping the money at home could lead to any group member being tempted to use it. The group savers account only requires P500 opening deposit, a minimum of three members, Omang or passports of two signatories, proof of residence and names as well as a confirmation by members of the club. In return, the members receive free P2, 000 accidental cover for 10 members, chequebook, monthly statements, SMS alert.” He says new product offers an attractive interest rate, enabling motshelo members to realize real value on their activities.
The Motshelo system has also evolved into a socio-economic network mostly for women and rebranded under fancy name such as kitchen top-up and food top up where kitchenware or food is bought and exchanged. But the most common “subsidiary” of the Motshelo is still the burial society or “societ” as it is still famously known, families came together to help each other in times of need. Burial societies met under the common goal of helping each other bury loved ones by contributing either food, money or just helping hands.
Motshelo is said to have been in existence as long as money has been in Botswana. It was founded on the basis of trust, as the backbone of convenience, as a strategic backup plan and a way to save for people who were not illegible or had no access to formal financial service providers such as banks or those whom financial service providers’ charges were too high and with lengthy and unaffordable terms of payment. Motshelo was and still is common among black communities with names such as “Women’s Everlasting Group” or “Women’s Money Group”, groups meet once a week or month and a set amount is collected and dispersed to a member on a rotating basis.
Kesegofetse Olaotse a 56 year old retired former Government employee says the motshelo concept is still alive and kicking and has morphed to schemes now being saving pockets for many with the idea that the money will be dispensed in December during the festive season. “Amazingly the new middle class has taken to this practice and they drive across town from the suburbs living all possible finance institutions to not only commit to these schemes but also socialize with friends and family. There are positions of authority in a motshelo you find treasurers and secretary generals amongst others.” She says some people still prefer to keep the money as far as possible from banks whereas others now bank after collections and withdraw when need arises.
Some of the reasons people join motshelo include: covering the costs of funerals, buying groceries in bulk especially around the Christmas time, saving towards the purchase of household items such a TV, fridge or a deposit on a car, buying property , investing in a business, or buying stock or equipment for a business, savings towards a holiday, for a child’s education, or as a general investment. While metshelo are run under strict rules, they are also guided by the Setswana tradition of go thusana, or helping one’s neighbours in a time of need, therefore, unlike banks, motshelo tend to give members more leeway if they are going to be late with their monthly payments. Saving in a group cuts across gender, age and even social class amongst Batswana communities but the principle remains the same. For many Batswana, motshelo are more than just savings vehicles ÔÇô they are a safety net, providing a much needed cash injection when times are tough and also a social network that can offer help and advice when needed.