An idea mooted by former detainees while they were in detention before independence has turned into a multi-million dollar cooperative running supermarkets, shops and a small-scale farming plot.
In the seventies the detainees had to meet their personal needs from a 50-cent gratuity given each month by the colonial regime. Since those who smoked could not afford to buy cigarettes on a regular basis from the amount, detainees decided to pool the money to help subsidise those who smoked.
After independence in 1980, the former detainees teamed up with ex-combatants and pooled their demobilisation pay to form what is now known as All-Are-One Cooperative. Each contributed $100 a month remaining with only $85.
The cooperative now owns a complex in Bulawayo’s high-density suburb of Nkulumane which incorporates a supermarket, butchery, kiosk, record bar and a fast food take-away outlet. It also owns a 25-acre plot in Rangemore on the outskirts of Bulawayo. Besides vegetable gardening the cooperative has 6 000 chickens at any one time on the plot.
The cooperative is also renting a supermarket in the neighbouring suburb of Tshabalala and a shopping complex at Mbalabala, 60km south of Bulawayo, where it operates a grinding mill, a shop, a bottle store and a service station.
Plans for a $250 000 bakery in Nkulumane have already been approved by the Bulawayo City Council but the cooperative is having problems raising funds to put up the bakery.
“With our success, which has even been acknowledged by both the government and the private sector, and the repeated pronouncements by government that financial institutions should give money to cooperatives one would have thought things would be easier for us,” laments cooperative chairman, Elliot Ngwabi.
“Right now we are failing to raise money for our bakery. Financial institutions are saying they cannot give us money because the leadership of the cooperative changes every year. Our constitution says we must hold elections each year. They say they are afraid if they give us money the incoming executive might refuse to honour the debts of the previous one.”
But Ngwabi says this will not deter the cooperative from going on with its proposed expansion. Having come this far, he says, they cannot be thwarted by anyone. So they have set up a development fund from their reserves and will use it for future expansion.
In fact, it has been an uphill struggle for the cooperative all the way and they have only managed to survive because of their resilience. Ngwabi says although they had an initial capital of $45 000 they started off with a small grocery shop operating from a rented three-roomed house in Nkulumane.
At the time only four members out of the 32-member cooperative worked at the shop. Each was given a token allowance of $50 a month. The rest of the members sought jobs with the private and public sectors.
From their reserves, they started building their own supermarket complex in the same suburb and the $67 000 building was completed in December 1984.
When they moved to the new premises, members working for the cooperative full-time had their allowance increased to $105 a month. The cooperative paid school fees for their children.
Business started booming when they moved into the larger premises. They opened several sections like the butchery, kiosk, take-away section and record bar. Their business was also boosted by the growth of Nkulumane, built at independence and now one of the biggest high density suburbs in Bulawayo.
The cooperative bought a 25-acre plot in Rangemore, for $20 000 to do small-scale farming and build homes for cooperative members. They have also built their own pre-school and plan to establish a primary school.
After buying the plot, things changed dramatically. With their title deeds, the cooperative could now apply for limited finance. Business surged.
Twenty-four members are now working full time for cooperative and the allowance has risen to $350 -not much but members are all happy because at the end of each financial year they have their dividend which is reported to be quite high.