WHEN we are making grandiose personal plans with our ducks lining up perfectly in their rows, and our zest for life is at its peak, we can start to feel like we will all live forever.
Unfortunately they say the only certainty we all have in life is that none of us will come out of it alive. The beauty of it is that only divinity knows the exact termination date for each life that walks the earth. So the day of death general sneaks on us like the proverbial thief. When life is good should we pretend that it cannot happen to us?
Dying close to family at home back in Zimbabwe is not as complicated as dying in a far off place in the middle of nowhere. Living in a fairly violent city like Johannesburg and related places, with atrocious driving and hijackings, it is statistically probable that a significant number of Zimbabweans here will meet their fate through some of these issues.
When this happens where do we start? The general rule of thumb is that every able bodied person should have an emergency savings fund equivalent to three months earnings in an accessible money market fund. The reality though is that a number of Zimbabweans in the diaspora do not have this money.
In our village, when we had a funeral, every villager would bring a ‘khonde’ usually made of maize meal to prepare sadza/isitshwala for the mourners and some vegetables.
In a sense, a funeral has always been a collective responsibility for the living in our communities. Here in South Africa we have had many instances where we have been called upon to do a kanzatu-kanzatu (collections) for Zimbabweans who die suddenly. A thread which runs through many of these funerals is that many of the dearly departed have absolutely nothing to their names.
When relatives back in Zimbabwe are informed of a death away from home, the first reaction is always bring the body home immediately. Ferrying a body from South Africa to Zimbabwe cost in the neighbourhood of R10,000 ($1,400). I believe it’s £1,300 in the UK.
In South Africa, some of the friends of the dead’s first port of call are the ‘mashonisas’ (local loan sharks) where they borrow money to give the departed a decent sent off. This has left the remaining people more viciously ensnared in another cycle of debt as in some cases the interest rate is as high as 50% per month.
I have attended a couple of involuntary diaspora burials in Johannesburg occasioned by the reality that money for the repatriation of bodies cannot always be found. Friends and Zimbabwean communities here in South Africa are no longer succumbing to bullying from families back home to bring back bodies home or else, whether there is money or not.
One Zimbabwean community here simply smsed the family of the departed the full amount required to move the body and requested them to send the money for them to begin the procedures. After accepting the reality of the situation, the family gave permission for the person to be interred here.
Instead of just waiting for life to happen, it is quite possible to be proactive and plan ahead on issues of life and death. For example just 1,000 people can agree to form a trust fund that can cover some of these inevitable issues. This does not have to be restricted to the salaried and chattering up classes.
At just R150 (just over $20) a month, a very viable fund can be put up with even roadside hawkers participating. In just a month, this fund with just 1,000 members can have R150,000 which cascades to R1.8 million ($257,000) in one year even without taking into account the compounding effect and prudent investment strategies.
The fund would just need clear entry and exit criteria and the level of support that can be rendered to each beneficiary. Clearly, guidelines would have to be put in place on who can access the funds. For example, family members who can be considered can be limited to fathers, mothers and children listed on joining the fund.
Once we have 10 or so separately managed funds, they can even start to share transport and other burial costs among entities owned by the funds. That way the entities can achieve economies of scales while at the same time establishing viable businesses owned by the diaspora communities themselves.
If it becomes too big, you can get the issues properly actuarially determined so as to aid in your planning. You can always hire the clever accountants to keep the books on the straight and narrow.
The beauty of this arrangement is that the funds that you are building are in your own hands. You can choose where to invest it through openly elected trustees with limited terms of office. If you board of trustees decided to invest it in Zimbabwe, it is up to them.
We cannot say the same for the large independent fund managers who are making decisions with our funds all over the world.
In the event that no one actually dies then this fund can become a foothold to participate in viable economic activities and in a couple of years who knows where this will take you to? You can even start your own micro-loan facility which can be extended to members to start viable projects.
Dr. Chika Onyeani, the Nigerian-born American author of Capitalist Nigger explained in his book how very little money circulates in black communities. We tend to be just consumers of other people’s produces.
Have we not all wondered why we just make a little money but are always the first at the Thai, Chinese, Greek or Italian restaurants in our expensive cars showing off our Louis Vuitton accessories and other branded paraphernalia? In South Africa we call this conspicuous consumption.
I have worked with local South African communities who can hardly read and write who have formed very viable stokvels whose investment strategies would impress even a Wall Street investment specialist. Now large companies looking for black economic empowerment partners are scrambling all over the country trying to find these well-run stokvels so as to be perceived as caring companies bringing economic benefit to people in the street.
A good business always starts by solving a specific problem that people encounter. Pulling together funds even in burial societies can create distinct possibilities. Even poor Malawi communities that were resident in Zimbabwe years ago were able to do it effectively.
For those with foresight, your death can be a crowning celebration of your life and not just a depressing gathering of friends and family.
Tafirenyika L. Makunike is the managing partner of Napachem cc (www.nepachem.co.za), an enterprise development and consulting company