Peles L. Biswalo / Zodwa Baartjies

In this article, the authors present the case of a co-operative organisation (Zenzele Association) in Swaziland consisting of different individuals and groups of women who receive loans for the aim of starting income-generating activities. Problems of loan repayment are identified and solutions are suggested. In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives (Home Economics Section), the authors have designed a system of assisting in the smooth provision of loans to the women in the Zenzele projects. The system not only provides opportunities to secure loans, but also incorporates ways of collecting loans (pay back system) and monitoring how loans are used. A brief introduction on income generating activities is presented while a literature review on credit systems for women is also outlined. Peles Biswalo is a lecturer in the Department of Adult Education at the University of Swaziland and teaches Instructional Design and Communication. Mrs. Zodwa Baartjes is a Senior Community Development Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives – Home Economics Section, and is currently taking a distance education course leading to a Bachelor of Adult Education at the University of Swaziland.

Women’s Need for Credit in Order to Participate in Income-generating Activities: Swaziland Case Study


Participation in income-generating activities is of vital interest to women throughout the developing world. Women participate in those activities which they feel will bring increased income, which they could use to supplement whatever is available or brought in by their spouses. In some cases, however, the women are the breadwinners of the ­family.

In Swaziland, for example, income-generating activities are mostly ­carried out by women. This has been found by students on the adult education programme of the University of Swaziland, who have to conduct a training programme in a community of their choice. Most of the groups reached have been women’s groups. Very few men were involved. As a matter of fact, experience has shown that rural women’s involvement in income-generating activities is pervasive throughout the Third World. Throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America, women in ­rural areas are the traders and small merchants.

Women also contribute greatly to the economies of many developing countries through food and crop production. In Tanzania, for example, women are the backbone of the rural communities. They work the fields and maintain the home, but receive scant rewards. Women, who make up more than half of the country’s population of 30 million people plus, find the first hurdle to setting up a business is access to credit. Getting a loan from a commercial bank is a nightmare of form-filling and intrusive questioning.

A scheme established recently in parts of Tanzania, which is like many others, attempts to help them plough some of the little money they have saved into income-generating projects. The idea is simple – to support credit schemes among women cooperative members. The organisation is non-profit making and is known as the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). Women who join this scheme are given loans to run their projects.

Women need loans to be able to conduct and/or participate in income-generating activities. For example, women’s want of credit was recorded early by Huston in her interviews with women in six countries (1979) and by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional Economic Development Services Office, West Africa, in interviews with women in Upper Volta (USAID, 1978). This is still the case even now.

This paper examines why women participate in income-generating activities, the need for access to credit, and finally a system for accessing loans, repayment and monitoring of loan use, citing a case in Swaziland.

Income-generating Projects

An income-generating activity can be seen as some form of “employment” whereby participants are involved in activities for the purpose of increasing their income. An income-generating activity includes any self-supporting project where benefits accrue to participants from sale of items for money, from employment for wages, or from increased produce. Types of projects carried out in many countries may vary depending on the situation. For example, projects may involve planting trees to increase fuel or fodder supply or to conserve soil, thereby improving production in the gardens and fields. In Swaziland, quite a number of women’s groups are involved in activities such as sewing, gardening and the manufacture of candles, floor polish and cloth softeners, Vaseline and Vicks. Other products and/or activities termed “men’s” work include the making of bricks (blocks), water reservoirs (small dams) and huge water jars for harvesting water.

While generating increased income is the main thrust in these endeavours, an important aspect is also benefit control. This has happened, for example, in a project like chicken-raising, where women do most of the chores (i.e. carrying water for long distances) but men benefit most from the cooperative because women have no voice in selecting or directing the project or in benefit use. This is more so when a woman brings an income to the household but the husband decides how to spend the money; sometimes not to the benefit of the family or the woman involved. This type of problem can be alleviated where project options consider allowing participants (in this case women) to select and receive community or private goods instead of money, if ­control of money is denied.

Access to Credit for Women

Women involved or not involved with income-generating activities need credit for the same reasons that men do. One of the main reasons is to increase the family’s income through expanded production and investment and to improve the family’s welfare through increased consumption. Women have been and continue to be heavily involved in rural production. They need credit to increase their productivity and ­income just as rural development schemes need to improve women’s productivity.

Access to Indigenous Versus Modern Systems of Credit

Women are known to participate in informal credit markets in most Third World countries. Some are involved in formal loans. However, not many women borrow or invest in modern banking systems. Two major factors restrict women’s access to formal credit more than men, particularly in most Third World countries. A major hurdle for women is collateral, when it is required. Collateral includes houses, land, and other properties. The problem is that just about all the above items (especially land) are in the name of the male who is the head of the household. Women require the approval of the man (i.e., signature) in order to receive a loan. A second major obstacle is that many lending institutions do not have programmes that address the types of work done by women. These include income-generating activities.

The above problems, and many others which limit women’s borrowing capacity, have led women to find other means of borrowing money. These include indigenous borrowing systems, whereby women obtain informal credit from relatives, moneylenders and pawnbrokers, wholesalers and middlemen and self-initiated rotating associations. The self-initiated rotating credit association is one of the most interesting schemes. In this case, a group of persons who agree to make regular contributions to a fund are involved. The funds obtained become the property of each contributor in rotation.

A practical example is where a group, which might be organised by a woman with a good reputation as a leader, forms this kind of association. Members deposit small sums either once a week or every other week. It is important for the women to be able to make frequent contributions to the association so that money does not get used up on other things. Each member in turn can take out the whole sum of money the group has collected. In an emergency or for special needs, a member can borrow when her turn has not yet come. The group is open to all women except those with bad credit ratings. Each group member has another person acting as guarantor; if the first member is not able to pay, the second member assumes this obligation. In some cases, however, these credit schemes do not work. One reason is that some members are not able to contribute as required, or that there is nothing to give out when it is someone’s turn to receive the money.

In Tanzania a non-profit making organisation known as the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) is assisting women in accessing loans. The ICA was founded in 1895 with the aim of uniting, representing and serving co-operatives in the world. The regional work of ICA includes research and planning, and the regional offices and project offices act as consultants in co-operative development in the different regions. About 30,000 women in Tanzania’s northern region of Kilimanjaro are being helped by the ICA to set up savings and credit associations to raise capital for their businesses. The ICA offers training in book-keeping and savings and credit management for women in co-operative development, the ICA’s priority area.

In Swaziland, there are some organisations offering loans to women. IMBITA is one example. This organisation is a Women’s Finance Trust. It is a membership organisation which provides practical services to meet women’s needs for financial and technical assistance. The organisation is open to all women residing in Swaziland. Any woman joining becomes a member and pays a joining fee. Members deposit some amount in a savings account. They can (after some time) withdraw some of their savings. Members can apply for loans from the organisation. A member must have saved for at least a period of three (3) months before she is eligible to apply for a loan. In this case, savings must be at least 20% of the loan amount. Details on repayment schedules are then worked out. Training on running business enterprises can be organised on request by a member of the organisation.

While women face constraints in accessing loans world-wide, in some cases some groups enjoy access to credit with fewer problems. Below are examples of the characteristics of ­financial services that meet women’s needs

  • Loans are available for trade and services as well as manufacturing.
  • Collateral is not required because substitutes such as solidarity groups, character references, jewellery and personal effects are acceptable.
  • Deposit services are offered.
  • Loans are available for short-term working capital.
  • Loans are available in small amounts.
  • Loan repayment schedules fit women’s business cycles.
  • Loan sizes may be increased upon satisfactory repayment of first-time loans.
  • Micro-enterprises with few employees are eligible.
  • Signature of spouse or male relative is not required.
  • Literacy is not a requirement.
  • Loans are easily and quickly processed.
  • Loan officers can assist women in completing forms.
  • Loans are given to home-based or ambulant businesses.
  • Location is convenient and safe for women.
  • The hours of operation of the institution are compatible with women’s business and domestic obligations.
  • Training is not required for disbursement of credit.
  • There are special arrangements to assist women borrowers unfamiliar with formal financial service institutions.

Zenzele Associations: Swaziland Case Study

In this section we present a case where an association created to assist women in securing loans for their activities was formed. Some difficulties in running the scheme were identified, and solutions sought and are presented here.

The Shiselweni Zenzele Association is made up of Zenzele Associations from the different areas of the region. Shiselweni is the region in Swaziland where the Zenzele Association is located. Zenzele means “do it yourself”. Ninety percent of the groups forming the association are from rural areas while ten percent are from semi-urban areas.

The region covers an area of about 5000 square kilometres, with six main towns; Lavumisa, Hluthi, Gege, Nhlangano, Maloma and Hlathikhulu. The climatic conditions are mainly moderate, with well-distributed rainfall in some areas while in ­others it is hot and rainfall is scarce.

Most of the roads are not tarred and are hardly serviced except for one main road from Manzini (the second largest city in Swaziland) to Mahamba, which is considered the main border post leading to South Africa through Piet Relief. This makes it very difficult for the community to move from one town to another, especially on rainy days.

There are two main rivers that cut across the region from South Africa to Maputo, Mozambique. These are the Mkhondvo and Ngwavuma rivers. Some of the small rivers do not have water during the winter season. Most areas have dams that supply them with water.

In most areas, people grow maize, legumes, fruits and vegetables which they sometimes sell, but most of the food grown is used for feeding the families. In the areas that are situated in the low veld, like Hluthi, Maloma and Lavumisa, communities produce cotton and raise cattle and goats, most of which are sold, and the money is used to buy food since the climatic conditions are not favourable for producing maize, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Most of the farming is conducted by women and children, because more than eighty percent of the men have migrated to Johannesburg to work in the mines, or are working in the industries of Swaziland like Big Bend Sugar Company, Shiselweni Forestry Company and the Matsapha industrial sites. For that matter, more than half of the men rarely come home and do not support their families on a regular basis. Most women get money in the form of gifts from their husbands who do not consider it a must to support their families. As a result, some children have to work in the cotton fields while the women sell clothing and handicrafts which they purchase from South Africa.

Basic Services Available

There is one hospital in the region, based at Hlathikulu. There are two Health Centres, one in Nhlangano, which is the main town, and the other at Matsanjeni, which is between Lavumisa and Hluthi. All the other towns have clinics. Piped water is provided in the main towns. The towns have electricity. Shops, schools and churches are available. In most of the towns, public transport is available, although not on a regular basis because of the poor state of the roads, which makes it difficult for transport owners to maintain the buses. There are two training institutions in the region, Ngwane Teachers College and the Nhlangano Agricultural Training Centre.

Services not Available

There are no industries in the region, so that the rate of unemployment is very high. In most areas people cannot access health facilities and have to walk long distances to the nearest health centre. In some areas, domestic water is very scarce and people are forced to use donkeys to collect water from dams which are not situated within walking ­distance.

Family Structure

More than eighty percent of the families are headed by women because the men have migrated to industrial towns, and some of them have died in the mines in South Africa. The few men that stay at their homes spend most of their time in shebeens (bars) drinking local brew.


The Shiselweni community is a Christian community mainly because missionaries settled in the region. Most of the schools are missionary schools. There are a variety of church denominations such as Metho­dists, Catholics, Evangelists, Zionists and Lutherans.

Educational Background

Eighty percent of the members for the Zenzele Associations have been to primary school through, two percent have secondary education, three percent have high school education and the rest are illiterate.

Distribution of Family Income

The distribution of family income is not even because most communities spend a lot of money on food and fuel and cannot afford to spend on other items such as education and clothing. Through the Participatory Rural Appraisal technique some women came up with the following results for the distribution of income:

Basic Needs Percentage of Income
Food 50%
Fuel 15%
Transportation 10%
Farm inputs 10%
Home improvements 5%
Education 3%
Clothing 3%
Others 4%


Most communities are engaged in income generation projects such as handicrafts, school uniform and vegetable production, poultry, piggery and fruit production, water tank construction, bee keeping and hawking. Some women work in town and forestry companies and earn salaries that are less than E500 per month (6 E equals approximately 1 dollar). Most of the women are engaged in hawking on a part-time basis. Handicraft production is done by some women who have access to grass, but at very low prices, because the women do not have a reliable market for their products, and the pricing is done by customers.

Development Programmes

Various Government Ministries such as the Ministries of Health and ­Social Welfare, Agriculture, Education and Tinkhundla (traditional ­government) provide developmental programmes with the aim of improving the quality of family lives. Non-governmental organisations also provide services, especially for the areas that have been experiencing drought for the past five years.

There are no social projects or services in most areas and most people visit bars and shebeens for socializing. There are soccer clubs but mainly for males, especially in the main towns. Most women are engaged in church activities such as church meetings, conferences and others.


The rate of disease is high amongst pregnant and lactating mothers because women in some areas cannot obtain the necessary food even if they do have money. Children suffer from malnutrition because of the same problem. Some communities experience diarrhoeal diseases during the rainy seasons because they do not use toilets for relieving themselves. Skin diseases like scabies affect community members because of the shortage of water. Tuberculosis is prevalent in most areas because people have to share very small houses and in the process contaminate each other.

Crime Rate

The region experiences a very high crime rate because most of the young people are unemployed and survive by stealing cattle and vehicles to sell in South Africa.

Credit for Zenzele Members

The Zenzele Association Project (ZAP) is a programme within the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives (Swaziland) that gives loans to Zenzele groups with the aim of improving the quality of lives for families. Through a needs assessment, it was gathered that the loan programme was not working very well. There was a need to find out why members of the association were failing to service their loans, and to develop a strategy for changing their attitude towards the repayment of loans.

The Zenzele Association is a nongovernmental organization which is affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Home Economics Section. The Home Economics Section operaters through the ­following major programme areas:

  • Food and Nutrition
  • Home Management and Sanitation
  • Skills training for Home Use and Income Generation
  • Improvement of the status of women, both within the family and ­society
  • Business management training and the provision of credit facilities

The Home Economics Section seeks to motivate people through a variety of extension methods that emphasise the value of “Do it yourself or Zenzele”. For easier reach, the section encourages women to form Zenzele Associations. The section works with the women, most of whom are from rural areas, have never been to school and therefore are unemployed. The women’s associations are trained to assess their needs and resources in order to decide upon activities and projects appropriate for them.

The number of groups that have been given ZAP loans has increased but the loan repayment rate has decreased at an alarming rate. One author of this article is one of the trainers and a Board member of ZAP and has been asked by the ZAP Board members to help in encouraging the women to repay their loans.

Access to Loans

Culturally, in most African countries, women are not allowed to apply for loans without the husband’s consent, so that the loan schemes provided by the banks do not help many women, especially those in rural areas.

In 1989, the Home Economics Section, through the assistance of Barclays Bank Development Fund, initiated a El0,000 revolving loan project for the Zenzele Associations, under the name of Zenzele ­Associa­tion Project (ZAP).

Zap’s Objectives

The main objective of the organization is to make loan funds available to Zenzele Associations through a process that emphasises sound business training, as well as access to credit for women. The application is therefore a feasibility study in a training manual format and enables the women to identify the weak spots of their business plan along the way, and to make improvements before accessing the loan, thus getting an educational service even if the loan is not given.

Management of the Organization

The organization is managed by a team of six members, who are called the ZAP Board of Trustees. Members comprise two staff members from the Ministry’s headquarters and one staff member from each of the regions. The Board members act as resource people and also oversee the overall administration of the organization according to the policies and procedures laid out in the administrative handbook of ZAP.

Organizational Needs Assessment

Most recently (1999), the organisation felt a need to revisit its goals and objectives in the form of a review. A needs assessment was conducted through the use of questionnaires. These were distributed to the Board members, and to the Home Economics staff members in the ­Shiselweni Region, including the executive members of some of the Zenzele Associations in each of the five Rural Development Areas (RDAs).

List of Organizational Needs

The needs identified were as follows:

  • Recruitment of staff
  • Increasing the budget so as to issue more loans
  • Finding ways and means to sustain the organization (decreasing administrative costs)
  • Establishing an office in the region, and
  • Improving on the loan monitoring system

Prioritized Organizational Needs

The organizational needs were prioritized by the Board of Trustees, and were as follows:

  • Finding ways and means to cover administrative costs
  • Improving on the monitoring system of the programme
  • Increasing the budget so as to issue more loans
  • Establishing an office in the region
  • Recruitment of more staff

Desired Resources

After scrutinizing the needs, the following were agreed upon as desired actions:

  • Establishment of a Loan Monitoring Committee
  • Establishment of a Credit Collecting System
  • Design of a tool for registering aspiring Zenzele groups
  • Development of a screening tool and committees at RDA levels
  • Hiring of a lawyer to assist in collecting money from unreliable customers

Intervention Sought

To solve the performance problems, the following were selected as possible solutions to help change the attitude of the women towards the acquiring of loans and timely repayment.

  • Coaching – the couching will enable women to share information with other members from within the region and other Zenzele women from other regions, and to have a better understanding of business management, thus getting more profit. Resource persons from other organizations will be requested to coach the women on relevant issues. This will encourage the women to apply the skills learned immediately.
  • Wall charts – will be used to supply extra information like the repayment rate and to inform members and congratulate those who have repaid the loans according to schedule.
  • Team meetings – team meetings will enable members to present performance or progress reports, which will help members to know what each group is doing and what problems they have come across, and will encourage business counselling. This will improve group performance and help the organization to achieve its goals.
  • Performance appraisal – group members will be asked to give their performance reports, which will be measured according to the planned programme. The women will have a project management schedule which will guide them on what should be done, and when it should be done.


The innovation was presented to over 100 Zenzele women who were called to the Nhlangano Farmers’ Training Centre for a one-day presentation. The women were advised to go back to their RDAs and elect RDA committees, which will be called to the Nhlangano Farmers’ Training Centre for a week’s training on the screening and monitoring exercise.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The monitoring and evaluation of results will be conducted by the Zenzele members at the RDA level, who will report to the Regional committee. The Regional committee will get feedback through bank records that will be presented by the Board member, who will get information from the treasurer of the national organization. Results will be presented in an annual general meeting which will be called after 12 months from the time the women have been implementing the solutions.


The evaluation process will take place with the monitoring process, which will be continuous. In this activity the adopters will implement the planned activities and check the impact of each activity. If the impact is negative, the adopters, Board members and Home Economics staff will have to prepare another strategy and use it in order to achieve the objectives. Monthly meetings for all parties will help in the monitoring and evaluation of the activity.

Functions of Monitoring and Evaluation

The monitoring and evaluation will reflect the achievement of the following programme objectives:

  • Input – provide credit to Zenzele women
  • Output – Zenzele women will have money and be able to provide their families with the basic needs
  • Impact – the socio-economic status of the families of Zenzele women will improve, and community members will be more productive and healthy

Indicators of Monitoring and Evaluation

The ZAP organization will:

  • Have more money to loan out
  • Have an increased loan repayment rate
  • Have faithful applicants and be able to plan for bigger loans

The Zenzele women will:

  • Have more income to be able to cater for their families’ basic needs
  • Have fewer leadership and business management problems within the associations
  • Relate well with members of the associations
  • Be able to counsel other members of Zenzele associations

Indicators of Evaluation

  • Output indicators
    • increase in number of Zenzele women granted loans
    • increased loan repayment rate
    • fewer leadership problems within associations


  • Economic indicators
    • Zenzele women will have more income
    •  women will engage in other income-generating activities
    • women will cater for the basic needs of their families
    • school-age children will be able to go to school because parents will pay school fees
  • Quality of life indicators
    • there will be less malnutrition in families
    •  the social life of families will improve
    • the crime rate will decrease because more people will engage in economic activities

Summative Evaluation

The summative evaluation will help to address the following issues:

  • The audience involved – the total number of Zenzele women in the Shiselweni Region who apply for ZAP loans, including the characteristics of the women, the areas from which they come and the types of businesses that enable the women to repay the loans.
  • Implementation – the evaluator will relate the planned solutions to the expected outcomes. In this case the planned solutions include screening loan applicants, designing and using a loan monitoring system, designing and using a credit collecting system and hiring a lawyer to help in collecting debts from unreliable customers. This should help in improving the loan repayment rate.
  • Effectiveness – the evaluator will look into changes in the behaviour of the Zenzele women including the way the women reach decisions and solve problems.
  • Impact – the impact of the programme will be recognised by an increase in the number of women who apply for loans, a 100% repayment rate, increased funds for ZAP as an organization, improved homesteads, families with less malnutrition, an increase in the number of social and economic activities and more healthy and happy families in the Shiselweni region.
  • Cost – the implementation of the programme will be cost-effective because it will involve a lot of people and encourage collaboration in activities, thus allowing the sharing of resources and personnel in implementing the programme.
  • Cause – the evaluator will have to find out why the expected  outcomes did not occur and improve on the weak points of the programme.

The summative evaluation will be carried out after one year because the programme involves the loaning out of money, the results of which cannot be assessed within in a short time.

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.