Dr Eddie Mahembe pledges to unite Zimbabweans in the name of progress

This week Zimbabwe Digital News met with the interim Chairperson of the Zimbabweans United for Progress (ZUFP) Dr Eddie Mahembe.

Two weeks ago, Dr Mahembe was nominated to stand for the position after the founding Chair Lady Martha Chasi said that due to her tight work schedule, she had to step down from Chairmanship positions in the organisation.

This week Dr Mahembe was unveiled as the man who will lead the organisation in its foundation phase until things settle down.

Dr Mahembe thank you for speaking to us.

Question 1. Who is Eddie Mahembe?

Thank you very much Zimbabwe Digital News for the opportunity. We really appreciate your partnership in spreading the word about Zimbabweans United for Progress (ZUFP) and its activities here in South Africa.

I am a son of peasant farmers from the dusty, arid, and rural Zaka district in the Masvingo Province in Zimbabwe. From this poor background, many people and organisations helped me to go to school.

This include our neighbours, some of my teachers, church organisations and the then national Department of Social Welfare in Zimbabwe among others.

In terms of academic qualifications, I hold a Doctorate Degree (PhD) in (Development) Economics and Master of Commerce (MCom) in Economics both from the University of South Africa (Unisa), a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) Honours in Econometrics from the University of Pretoria (UP), Bachelor of Science (BSc) Honours Degree in Economics from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), and many certificates and diplomas.

Firstly, when I look back on how I grew up and how many people and organisations helped me attain my qualifications, I regard myself as a child of the community.

Secondly, I have a deep understanding, from experience, of what it means to be poor and the pains of sleeping on an empty stomach.

Lastly, I have learnt that many families need external help, for them to be jump-started so that they can escape from poverty.

In summary, I am a pastor, development economist, researcher, entrepreneur, education activist and a socio-economic development advocate.

Question 2. After the departure from the leadership positions by Chair Lady Martha Chasi – you were thrust in this difficult position of leading ZUFP while the organisation is still finding its feet.

You are right that ZUFP is still new and still trying to find its feet. The departure of our founding Chairperson Martha Chasi (Madam Chair) caused some discomfort among all of us. However, the team came together and ‘thrusted’ me into this hot seat.

Since I was already part of the team, having started as the founding Secretary, it was a bit easy to step to the Chairperson’s role. What has made it even easier is the fact that Mrs Martha Chasi is still part of the team, though as a member.

The first thing we did as a team was to restructure the team with the aim of making sure vacancies were filled and that people are deployed to portfolios or departments, they would be more effective.

Secondly, we are currently busy finalising our financial policies and procedures. Furthermore, we have also engaged the services of an external auditor. As an NPC, we rely on donations and contributions, and therefore accountability and transparency are very important.

Thirdly, we are currently busy developing the first ZUFP Strategic Plan. This document will guide us in navigating the initial challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and related socio-economic changes faced by Zimbabweans in South Africa.

Through this strategic planning processes, our vision, mission and operational plans are workshopped and sharpened. I’m looking forward to leading a robust, dynamic, innovative and focus ZUFP going forward. We are all united and excited about our future and the expected positive impact on the Zimbabwean migrant community based in South Africa.

Lastly, our key activities such as identification of vulnerable families, fundraising and disbursements are continuing. We are happy with the responses we have received so far from our donors and partners. However, the demand for assistance is still extremely high and therefore we are encouraging donors and partners to continue supporting ZUFP.

Question 3. Describe the situation that you responded to in relation of the community of the blind Zimbabweans that are living in the inner city in Johannesburg.

When we visited the blind people in the inner city of Johannesburg for our food parcels donation, we came face to face with vulnerability. We came face to face with hunger, poverty and deprivation.

As you know, the blind in particular and people living with disabilities in general live on begging by the street corners.

When the lockdown was promulgated by the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa from 26 March 2020, these people could not go out on the streets to beg. Which means that their livelihoods were cut off due to the lockdown. As a result, they found themselves without food, clothing (especially blankets, during this winter) and basic toiletries. Some of them have school going children and some wanted data for online classes. Some had university children and were asking for university fees.

As an organisation with limited resources, we only distributed food parcels. However, we made a decision to take the message we got from this community to our donors and outside world.

Through the TV interview we had on SABC, some donors responded and this week we will be distributing two blankets per each of the 70 families of the blind. We really appreciate the positive responses we are getting.

Question 4. After you donated the food and left – what memories did you take with you afterwards, and how did those memories shape your view towards the complexity of the need to fix the bigger problem of destitution, distress, the vulnerable and those who are living in the streets?

As I indicated before, I come from a poor background. I know poverty. I can feel it. I can smell it. Because of my background, its easier for me to interact with the poor of the poor.

What I have also learnt, especially through my PhD studies is that poverty is persistent and dynamic. This means that if nothing is done, poverty can be easily passed on from one generation to another. Without decisive intervention, the poor will always be poor.

What is needed therefore is policy, strategic or even community intervention. For example, by giving food parcels, we have helped the school going children to study on a full stomach.

By donating blankets, the children will be warm and avoid being affected by diseases caused by cold weather. This way, we can somehow increase their chances of getting better grades at school and ultimately get better jobs.

It has been proved, both theoretically and empirically, that education is the surest way for a family, community, or nation to escape from poverty.

It has also been proved that without proper food, many students fail. Therefore, destitution, distress, and vulnerability have to be addressed holistically.

Lastly, it’s our responsibility to take care of each other. That is the basic definition of ubuntu: ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ (a person is a person through other people). As an organisation, we say “One tree does not make a forest”. It’s our call for unity among Zimbabweans, especially those based in South Africa.

It’s our call for unity of purpose, as encapsulated in our name: “Zimbabweans UNITED for Progress”.

Question 5. Panic has gripped many Zimbabweans who fear losing jobs, incomes, businesses and livelihoods. This has driven many to trolling social media in search of answers, and information. How are you managing the battle for information, particularly now when – if civic organisations and authorities do not communicate – it creates room for fake media and misinformation to breed and take root?

The worldwide panic is understandable because the world is facing a novel virus. The coronavirus is the first of its kind.

The global spread and respondent lockdowns are unprecedented. No one knows exactly how to manage the virus. People are learning as the virus spread and many governments are still struggling to respond to the virus.

What is important to understand is that Covid-19 is not just a health pandemic. It is also an economic and social pandemic. This means that the responses to Covid-19 should be broadened to include socio-economic and health initiatives.

ZUFP is one of the few NPCs which is looking at managing the impact of Covid-19 from a broader socio-economic perspective. In our solution matrix, we have the humanitarian, repatriation, and small business support offerings.

As part of information dissemination, we have our website, Twitter handle and Facebook page.

Here are the details:
Website: www.zim4progress.co.za
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Zimbabweans-United-For-Progress-102098751496507
Twitter: @UnitedZufp

Question 6. Describe the full extent of the networks that are coming together to co-ordinate ZUFP. Churches, business networks etc. Who or what exactly is the heart and soul that is bringing ZUFP together?

ZUFP is a collective effort of individuals from diverse backgrounds, including political parties, churches, NGOs, business community and individuals. In terms of political parties, ZUFP has representation from the MDC Alliance, Zanu PF, ZAPU, and Free-Zim Congress among others.

We also have prominent NGOs such as African Diaspora Forum, Zim Exiles Forum, and churches such as AFM, Zaoga, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Vapositori and business like Proudly 263 and Zim Dot Com.

What really brought us together is the call for unit. The call for ubuntu. It is the realisation that we are all Zimbabweans and we need each other. We are all motivated by the desire to help our fellow countrymen. We agreed that for the sake of the “Socio-Economic Support of Vulnerable Zimbabweans based in South Africa”, we can form a united front and fight this common enemy together.

Actually, our strength is in this diversity. We are speaking one voice, socio-economic support for fellow Zimbabweans based in South Africa. We are speaking the universal language of unity, peace, ubuntu, progress and development. The ZUFP language is above politics: it is nonpartisan.

Question 7. Describe your relationship with the Embassy of Zimbabwe. Are you sharing notes with the authorities on your activities?

We are still a fairly new organisation and therefore our relationship with the Zimbabwean Embassy is still at its infancy. However, soon after the registration of the founding Steering Committee and the registration of ZUFP as an NPC, we introduced ourselves to the Embassy through our Founding Chairperson.

The Ambassador welcomed us and appreciated our vision and mission. We got a commitment that we will get all the support we need, in line with their mandate and resources. We also committed to working together on areas of common interest.

Question 8. How are you reaching out to the Zimbabweans who are in: 1. Flats in Hillbrow, Berea, Yeoville and in the inner city; 2. Those in the informal settlements and townships; 3. Those Zimbabweans who are living in the north of Johannesburg.

One of our objectives as an organisation is to ‘identify’ vulnerable Zimbabweans who need help on one hand, and ‘reach out’ to those Zimbabweans who have the capacity to assist on the other hand. As a team, we have different Sub-Committees or Portfolios, with team heads, deputies, and team members.

These Sub-Committees help the organisation execute its mandate smoothly.

For example, for us reach out to potential beneficiaries, we have a Sub-Committee called ‘Mobilisation, Assessment & Disbursement’ headed by Mr Donald S. Makwara.

As the name suggests, their mandate include the development of a database of potential beneficiaries, assessing whether the applicants are vulnerable and degree of vulnerability and leading in the actual disbursement to deserving families.

It’s also important to note that our organisation is targeting Zimbabweans in South Africa at large. We do have provincial representatives in all the 9 provinces of South Africa.

Our Fundraising and Finance Team is headed by a qualified accountant and finance person, Mr Tafadzwa A Mukoti. Its mandate is to reach out to donors and partners with our ‘begging bowl’, so to speak. Through this team, we are reaching out to individuals (especially Zimbabweans in South Africa and diaspora in general), corporates, NGOs, governments, etc.

Question 9. You have to balance a difficult task in that while setting up a concrete constitution for ZUFP is urgent, the actual work that you have been set up to do is also urgent.

You are right, people are in distress out there. We are being faced with a situation that we need to attend to the corporate governance issues of the NPC on one hand, but we also need to raise funds and disburse to alleviate the immediate humanitarian needs, on the other hand.

This has indeed made our work both difficult and exciting at the same time. We had to literally build the plane and fix it while flying!

What has made our work easier is that we have unity of purpose within our team. The people I am leading have been amazing. Remember, this is voluntary work.

They are not being paid. Just as an example, which demonstrate their passion and commitment, more than 60% of our set up costs and first disbursements was a direct contribution from the Steering Committee!

Lastly, we structured ourselves into four (4) Sub-Committees which are working parallel to each other, but with great harmony.

Apart from the two Sub-Committees I mentioned above, we also have the Legal & Corporate Governance team which is headed by a corporate governance expert, Bethuel Ngwenya. We also have the Public Relations Sub-Committee which is headed by Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda.

Furthermore, we have a Secretary, Mr Godfey Manyika, who makes sure that the general administration and monitoring of performance are attended to timeously.

Question 10. You spoke on SABC this week. What did you say to Peter Ndoro and the millions who were watching you on TV in South Africa?

This was our first interview on national TV, but we were also cognisant that the station is watched by many people from Zimbabwe and across the African continent.

Our main message was centred on introducing the organisation to many stakeholders who include beneficiaries, donors, partners and well-wishers. We took the opportunity to explain our vision, mission, purpose and made a call for donations.

We are happy that the interview has opened many doors for ZUFP. We have been receiving calls from donors and also those who want to be considered for help. From donors and partners, we will be receiving the first batch of blankets and food parcels this weekend and we have many pledges for financial donations.

Question 11. You said that one of the challenges that you want to fix is that the units/organs of the organisation should speak with one voice and one purpose. How will you do that?

Building an organisation with a broad vision and mandate such as ZUFP is not easy and cannot be done overnight. Like what they say, Rome was not build in one day.

However, it’s important to get the foundation right. We all know that if you have to build a tall building, you have to dig a deep foundation going down, before you start building going up.

Furthermore, given the diverse background of the founding team, one would expect divergent views. This is important for me because I have to understand that I’m leading a heterogenous group. However, we all have subscribe to the notion that ‘there is unity in diversity’.

As a leader, I have to appeal to those common values who brought us together in the first place. We were brought together by our love for our country Zimbabwe and fellow countrymen. We share the same yearning for progress, development and ubuntu. So, what binds us is our common values.

From an operational level, as a Chairperson, my main responsibility is to make sure that this broad vision is communicated clearly and understood by all our Steering Committee (Interim Board) Members and Volunteers. The Bible says, “write the vision [down] and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it”.

This is exactly what we are doing. We are having our first Strategic Planning session in few days’ time so that the vision is clearly articulated to allow the team to ‘run with it’.

Question 12. What is going to happen to ZUFP in the next 100 days?

Thank you for your interest in what we are doing. Our immediate target is to assist around 20 000 families who are already either in our database or have indicated through our partner organisation that they are in need. This requires us to raise around R7 million.

Going forward, we also want to support those who want to go back to Zimbabwe through repatriation support in the form of portable skills.

Lastly, we are busy building modalities for the small business (SMMEs) support through mentoring and revolving loans.

We believe that it’s not enough to give people food (fish). We have to offer the proverbial ‘training and fishing rod’ for sustainable solutions. These are our medium to long term plans as ZUFP.

Question 13. Zimbabwe Digital News has covered for three weeks running – the story of the events that led to the setting up of ZUFP, and some of the early activities of this organisation. What role should media play, and especially digital media?

Indeed, Zimbabwe Digital News has been there from our very inception and we really value your support.

We regard the media houses as strategic partners to our organisation. The media plays a critical role in helping us to reach our target beneficiaries, potential donors, and partners.

The media also helps us to spread the message of unity of purpose around common values such as love, peace, ubuntu, progress and development. This is particularly important among Zimbabweans where there are high levels of polarisation.


Stay tuned to www.zimbabwedigitalnews.com for rolling coverage of the out reach programme at ZUFP.


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