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Mobilizing community assets to alleviate poverty among women : a case study of Zimele developing community self-reliance in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

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Faith-based organisations (FBOs) play an important role in the health and well-being of urban and rural communities. Most communities, especially in rural areas, depend on FBOs’ health facilities, social networks or charitable development services for their well-being. This study investigates the role of a FBO called Zimele Developing Community Self-Reliance (Zimele) in alleviating poverty among women in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Zimele has served the women of rural KwaZulu-Natal since 2007. Its Self Help Group (SHG) programme seeks to empower women by developing social support within communities and savings which members access for loans. SaveAct, a non-faith based organisation in KwaZulu-Natal doing similar work as Zimele, has been included in this study for comparative purposes. To achieve its objectives, this study researched the poverty context of rural KwaZulu-Natal, with a focus on women. The study provides various definitions of poverty such as income poverty, social poverty, capability deprivation poverty, disempowerment poverty, physical poverty and psychological poverty. The study researched the kind of poverty Zimele is working to alleviate. This study has provided various intervention strategies such as monetary interventions, David Korten’s Four Generations of NGO support, Asset Based Community Development and Paulo Freire’s Dialogical Action and Social Development. The study presented the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF), which most FBOs, NGOs and governments use to understand and act against poverty. Literature reviewed on the definitions of poverty, poverty alleviation strategies and the SLF guided the development of a theoretical framework upon which the study is constructed. Extensive literature review and field research were conducted by the researcher to collect the data necessary to achieve the aims of the study. The research design and methodology used were based on the aims and objectives of the study. The research used various data collection methods such as library study, focus group discussions, photography, documentary reviews, interviews and observations. The field research data collected was analysed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) which is a Windows software package used to enter data, analyse data and create tables or graphs. There were eight key results in this study. First, Zimele, a FBO and SaveAct, a non-faith-based organisation, engage in enhancing livelihood strategies as opposed to charitable activities that create dependence. Second Zimele/SaveAct are enhancing the leverage of women’s Livelihood Assets portfolios for improved Livelihood outcomes. Third, Zimele/SaveAct, through their programmes, are empowering women in Swayimane and rural Winterton/Lotheni and rural Bergville to realise improved livelihood outcomes. Forth, Zimele is enabling the enhancement of Political Capital to alleviate disempowerment and physical poverty of the women on its programme while SaveAct does not. Fifth, the differences/similarities between Zimele’s development strategies, compared to SaveAct, indicate that Zimele’s primary focus is the building of Social Capital and Save/Act’s primary focus is Financial Capital, sixth, Zimele/SaveAct programmes are empowering rural women to become actors of their own development as seen in their diversification of livelihood strategies. Seventh, There is a disconnect between programmes implementers, Zimele/SaveAct staff, and the programme participants, the rural women, on the livelihood strategies, change and recommendation on areas of programmes improvements The present study immensely contributes to the academic world in understanding poverty and effective poverty alleviation strategies that help develop self-reliance and sustainable livelihood strategies. The study contributes to academic literature on the work of FBOs engaging with community assets for social transformation, a field on which not much has been written. The study ends with recommendations, based on its findings, to Zimele, SaveAct, social development policy-makers and academicians on implementable aspects that could help with effective poverty alleviation processes among women in rural communities.


Doctor of Philosophy in Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2016.


Poverty - SA - KZN., Poor women - SA - KZN., Rural women - SA - Social conditions., Zimele Developing Community Self Reliance., Theses - Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management.