Stakeholders blast ZWMB over failure to alleviate poverty; bank insists it’s making a difference

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By Alois Vinga

STAKEHOLDERS have criticised the Zimbabwe Women Microfinance Bank (ZWMB) for failing to alleviate the plight of the country’s impoverished women by continuing to operate like any a profit chasing entity.

Founded in 2018, ZWMB is a deposit-taking microfinance institution in Zimbabwe which serves marginalised community members who cannot easily access conventional commercial banks, particularly rural women.

With an asset value of US$10 million as at the day of opening its doors to the public, the bank’s mission is to empower all women economically and socially by offering tailor made products.

But women from diverse socio-economic backgrounds who converged in Harare at an Economic Justice for Women Project (EJWP) organised event recently concurred that the situation facing women remains dire, underscoring that ZWMB has to date failed the litmus test to turn around women’s fortunes.

MDC legislator for Matebeleland North, Sibusisiwe Buddha, who is also the deputy chair of the Zimbabwe Women Parliamentary Caucus, criticised the bank over its failure to appreciate financial problems affecting women.

“The Women’s Bank is assisting the already financially capable people,” said Buddha.

“The women of means, those who are wealthy already are the ones getting assistance from this institution. They will never extend a loan to you if you do not have valuable collateral.

“At the end of the day, ZWMB is just feasting on the gender dividend of women, yet in actual fact operating the same way other profit seeking banks are doing.”

She added, “We therefore plead with authorities to create a bank which really cares for women.

“This is not a bank for the common woman. The rural woman. The oppressed woman desires to see change in her life.”

Another vendor at the event, Yeukai Kazingizi from Chitungwiza, said approaching ZWMB is a waste of time because of existing bottlenecks.

“Several women I work with cannot afford the interest charged on these loans,” said Kazingizi.

“We realised that getting assistance from the bank can expose us to losses because the Return On Investments is much lower than the charged interests.

“The other challenge is that the bank often approaches us in our work spaces and encourages us to open accounts with them but in turn a few get the loans and at the end of the day we suspect that such campaigns are mere fundraising gimmicks.”

Doctor Mandas Marikanda

Contacted for comment over the issues, ZWMB chief executive officer, Doctor Mandas Marikanda dismissed the allegations, insisting that the bank has traceable references of loans extended towards several women on the basis of collateral not widely acceptable across the banking sector.

“We have several projects which we have supported to date with funds being extended for collateral that would not be ordinarily acceptable by other financiers,” said Marikananda.

“At times we resort to using the equipment bought for some women’s group’s as collateral as well as livestock. Such allegations are being peddled by people who have no knowledge on how we operate,” she said.

She said over the years, politicians have mistaken the ZWMB as a vehicle upon which populistic campaign movements can ride on, forgetting that the bank is in business.

However, Marikanda effectively admitted that the bank is struggling to support women after revealing that to date only 150,000 clients transact with the bank.

Almost 114,000 have received loans through ZWMB out of which about 90,000 of the beneficiaries are women.

This is despite the fact that the population of women stands at 7,9 million reeling under the hardships of extreme poverty in the country.