The oldest member is 83 years old and the youngest is 57 years old but they still dream big. In November last year, Sentenjani Multi-Purpose Co-operative’s dream came true and, for the first time, their Maize Meal Hammer Mill machine started operating at Nyakeni under Ekukhanyeni Area Programme.
“I will never forget that day. It was like we were still dreaming and people were everywhere with their maize for grinding. On this day, the grinding service was free since the engineers were still working on perfecting the desired kind of mealie meal. We were singing, dancing and praying outside because of happiness,” 63-year-old Phumzile Zubuko, who is also the chairperson of the Co-operative says.
This Co-operative started as a Savings Group with 17 members. As years progressed, the group decided to register as a Cooperative. The area did not have a nearby maize grinding hammer mill and almost all the people in the community produced maize. It was then that the group decided not to share their annual savings, but start planning for the big project of owning a hammer mill. However, some members decided otherwise and left the group. As a result, 10 members were left and they pushed the dream forward.
They wrote a business proposal to Micro Projects, through the Regional Development Fund, and it was accepted. They were told to build a structure and install electricity to accommodate the mill. That is where the problem started. They spent all their savings on the construction of the structure and could not afford to buy wiring material to wire the building, which would amount to E86 000 (US$5,733).
“World Vision just came at the right time and wired the whole building. We were relieved. Some of us were so stressed and our blood pressures were shooting high. It was when World Vision took over that we started celebrating and we knew that the project would take off,” Phumzile elaborates.
She says, as this was not enough, World Vision bought them fencing material to secure their business structure.
In November 2021, the hammer maize mill was installed and started operating. The community members came in their numbers to celebrate, with a local pastor starting the service. Singing, dancing and prayer was the order of the day on site.
As months progressed, the cooperative discovered that they also needed a hammer mill that would produce samp. Most of the schools and households in the area also preferred samp. Currently, the structure for the samp mill is almost complete. So far, the co-operative has spent over E300 000.00 (US$20 000) from their savings constructing the structures.
Now, their future dream is to own maize silos (grain storage) to allow them to buy maize from the farmers, store the maize, process it and sell finished products to the public. The community leadership has gifted the group with a piece of land, which is about one-and-a-half hectares for farming.
Bongiwe Dlamini, the Development Facilitator for Ekukhanyeni Area Programme, says this group has been very active despite the that most members were quite advanced in age. The lives of almost 100 children including grandchildren children, who are in the care of the 10 women, have been changed for the better through this initiative.
“After completing their structure, we then supported them with the installation of electricity and fencing. We are excited that they have not stopped dreaming and we are also encouraging other groups to start such projects that will outlive them,” Bongiwe said.