A Retrospect on COVID-19 and Its Impact on the Women of Zubo Trust, Binga, Zimbabwe

By Tandi Pilani

As we enter the third week of 2021, we can finally turn the page on the challenging chapter in most of our lives that was 2020. As we put the pandemic-riddled year behind us, I thought it would be necessary to take this time to pause and reflect on the lessons learnt in 2020. It has been one of the most difficult 12 months, but we have persevered through it all. I feel that it is crucial to acknowledge everything we have achieved despite all the setbacks due to COVID-19.

We adapted and pivoted to meet our goals through unprecedented circumstances.

The women of Zubo Trust have always inspired me for all the challenges they face each day with their heads held high. Let’s take a look at how they did in the last quarter of 2020 so I can try and convey why they’re a constant source of inspiration for me and many others.

Basket Weaving

Ilala palm baskets (Known as Nsangwa in ChiTonga)
Photocredit@ Joseph Mugande

One cannot help but notice the connection between singing and working together. There is this innate sense of connectivity, camaraderie, and an overall sense of unity. It inspires hope in oneself and among everyone working together, bringing them closer. When the times get tough, singing and working in unison has this ability to show you that you have strength that you didn’t necessarily realize was there.

The footage below shows the women weaving and singing in Chi Tonga about the positive impact of the projects on their livelihoods. Nimble fingers are at work under the protection of a shed which was constructed after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

The weaving process

Pivoting to adapt to the changing dynamics was critical, as was the case with many Small Market Enterprises (SMEs). They re-strategised and focussed on the national market to fulfil the existing demand for baskets. The women worked from home during the strictest period of the lockdown. It’s quite unfortunate that it meant they could not collaborate with each other like they would while working together. Regardless of the challenges that befell the weavers, they produced astounding figures. They were pleased to share that they sold 6,000 ilala baskets between August and November, 2020. Their remarkable efforts ensured that they were able to fully provide the necessary income for their families despite all the challenges.

Ilala palm baskets
Photocredit@ Joseph Mugande

Jatropha Soap Project

Welthaus Bielefeld supported the Jatropha Soap Project team in their monumental effort to play a part in curbing the spread of COVID-19. The Zubo team made sure that the best hygiene practice and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were followed throughout the process to protect everyone by distributing soap to the project beneficiaries, the weavers, Jatropha seed farmers, vulnerable members of the community, and the staff members.

The most drastic phase of lockdown restrictions affected the operations. European clients could place an order for a limited quantity during the peak of the pandemic. 2,500 soap pieces were produced for export to a German client in November for a price of $1.40 per unit. It is unfortunate that the economic situation paints quite a grim picture. A majority of the people live in a state of acute poverty. However, the women of Zubo remain resilient and continue to thrive through these challenging times.

Fishing Project

The Bhindawuko Banakazi Cooperative also felt the pandemic’s impact. The fishing rigs are presently in need of urgent repairs. It has been the most successful project in recent years. However, all fishing initiatives have unfortunately been stalled for several months. In a country that is experiencing stark economic and political challenges, financial support is essential for the women to resume the project in 2021. The economic strength of the women is illustrated by the way they have managed what was traditionally considered to be a man’s job in the region. The women are courageous and can withstand the storms of the Zambezi river, allowing them to catch lots of Kapenta fish.

Find out more about the fishing project here.

The brave and resilient women of Zubo play a crucial role in the country’s fishing sector as female pioneers. I am fully confident in their ability and resolve to do so much more with the right financial backing. Their self-motivated and driven nature has been monumental in keeping their entire communities afloat during these challenging times. With the right donations, these pioneering ladies will be able to realise their goals and achieve far more than they already have in these difficult circumstances. If you believe in the remarkable work that the women of Zubo are doing and you want to help their journey toward empowerment, you should consider becoming a part of it by contributing through this fundraising page.

Looking onto this year, I am confident that these inspiring ladies will maintain their work ethic, their collaborative spirits, and their vision for self-empowerment. There is immense potential in the creative sector. My hope is that we can make all the possible efforts to ensure that the women of Zubo can fully participate in the global trade sector.

SMEs such as Zubo can benefit from the AfCFTA agreement. From what they continue to exhibit on a consistent basis, there is no reason why they should be left behind when it comes to trading throughout the continent and internationally. The willingness is there, they possess the ability, the talent, and the work ethic. They are highly motivated and driven to self-empowerment. Improved access to financial facilities and strategic planning will be instrumental in achieving the UN SDGs.

Additionally, Binga is a hidden gem with so much natural beauty to offer. It is home to the only sandy beach in the landlocked country. Ecotourism opportunities are immense in the region and I am looking forward to see how 2021 has an impact on the entire situation.

The current lockdown that has been imposed since January 5, 2021, is a necessary measure to curb the spread of the second wave of infections we have seen worldwide. While the first lockdown created a lot of confusion, these resilient women displayed their tenacity, resolve, and industriousness to persevere through those challenging times. I am sure that they will not let this lockdown deter them in their mission to empower themselves and help their families and communities. Stay tuned for more updates!

#socioeconomicdevelopment #womensempowerment #sustainable development #livelihoods #naturalresources #artisansinafrica #socialimpact #traditionalcrafts #smallmarketenterprises

How is Zubo Trust in Binga, Zimbabwe, navigating during these challenging times?

By Tandi Pilani

COVID-19 definitely has had an impact on the globe, dominating the media and disrupting lives. This novel coronavirus has brought the world to a halt, making us adapt and accept a “new normal”. This article puts a spotlight on the Zambezi valley, and illustrates how Zubo Trust in the Binga district as well as the other community members, are coping during these times of adversity. Zubo Trust is a women-led, not-for-profit organisation that was set up in 2009 to give attention to the issues that affect women and children.

The Ministry of Health and Childcare daily updates reveal the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths. No doubt, the organisations’ developmental initiatives have been hindered by this public health crisis.

Where is Binga?

Binga is located in the north-western part of Zimbabwe, just south of Lake Kariba.

Image by VectorStock

The population of the Zambezi Valley has historically faced structural inequalities and been struggling with high poverty rates prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The pandemic struck and thus they have been hugely affected. The Zambezi Valley communities primarily live in rural areas. Their remote location means they are excluded and have limited access to health services. It is important to note that rural households depend more on domestic remittances from urban migrants, so economic shutdowns in urban areas negatively impact on them as well.

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Soap pieces are being measured and wrapped in line with EU regulations . Image by @EMIC Media

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene #WASH – Promoting good hand-washing behaviour

The jatropha soap production is one of the projects managed locally by the women of Zubo Trust.

The jatropha seeds are mainly collected in three wards Manjolo, Kariangwe and Sikalenge. The seeds are in huge demand and this has led to the collection being extended to other wards, namely Pashu, Siadindi and Tinde. To ensure longevity, inhabitants are being encouraged to grow more jatropha plants.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is soap-gladys-2.jpg
Image by @EMIC Media

The natural, non-fragranced plant oil-based mild soap which was produced in early this year will be smoothened, packaged and distributed to the community members. Zubo Project Officers are managing the operations with support from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Women’s Affairs. At least 5000 households will benefit, a very welcome initiative particularly in a region where the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights is non-existent. It is important to recognise the agency of the Zubo women and the significant role they are playing on the ground. The use of natural resources to mitigate against the pandemic is exemplary of how collaboratively they seek ways to address the harsh realities of COVID-19.  The WHO guidelines advice to practice regular washing, a life-saving act, will be met. It is really a plus that the soap is mild and a non-irritant to the skin.

Image by @EMIC Media

We cannot ignore the issue of poor access to water; the sources in Binga are dry due to the low rainfall received in 2020. Those in Binga Centre where Zubo Trust is located are at an advantage due to their close proximity to the Zambezi River. However, those located further away from the center are facing difficulties, the UN SDG6 on access to water and sanitation is not being met.

Operations that have been affected

Deep inequalities are entrenched in the global south. As such, small businesses have suffered tremendous losses and the Binga women have not been spared from the economic shock. The women’s survival is dependent on weaving crafts and other small market enterprises (SMEs). With the lockdown regulations women are struggling to fend for their families. For example, they cannot travel to the urban areas to order goods for re-selling purposes, an activity which generated an income pre COVID-19.

The smooth operations of the basketry project have been affected immensely, with the varying levels of lockdown measures creating a major setback in the communities. The result of the restrictive measures, whilst they have been put in place to curb the spread of the virus, means zero income for many households.

However, the situation has since improved as the weavers are now receiving orders, they are trickling in, a glimmer of hope. The first order since the lockdown measures were enforced was received on the 10th of June 2020. To date, the weavers have received 6 orders. Workaround solution? The weaving is now being done individually from home. Ordinarily the women would work in groups, at central points namely Siachilaba, Chinonge, Mabobolo, Lubu, Sikalenge, Tobwe and Nakapande. Here they were able to share skills and give each other support.  What does this isolation mean? There is a loss of community building, loss of connection. Social interaction is now very limited, if not non-existent.

Awareness raising

Zubo Trust is tirelessly working towards mitigating the impacts of COVID-19. Awareness raising is absolutely key and campaigns on COVID-19 are being conducted throughout Binga district. A partnership between Zubo and the Ministry of Health and Child Care has resulted in PPE (personal protective equipment) such as face masks, gloves and hand sanitizers being distributed to seven rural clinics, to ensure that frontline workers are protected. Environmental Health Technicians were sponsored to conduct the awareness training sessions and they will demonstrate to the ward members how to use the hand sanitizers and soap in the most effective way.

Additionally 1000 fliers and 500 brochures have been designed and printed in the local language Tonga, for dissemination to the community members. An awareness raising video was produced and shared on social media platforms. The footage was translated into Tonga to reach a broader-based audience, by so doing promoting inclusivity.

Food insecurity in times of COVID-19

Zimbabwe is an a food deficit and according to a World Food Programme report published in 2019, 7.7 million were facing severe hunger, with women and children affected the most by malnutrition.

Matebeleland North is dry and already affected by severe drought and erratic rainfall.  As the food crisis worsened during the lockdown, donors such as the Red Cross, Kulima Mbobumi Training Centre (KMTC) and ADRA came on board to assist in the fight against hunger. They are playing a role in ensuring that food rations such as beans, cooking oil and maize meal are distributed to vulnerable households. Zubo Trust, with financial aid received from the Welthaus Bielefeld in Germany and the Cotswold Foundation in the United States, will supplement the donor assistance and provide salt to the communities.


Zubo bids for the partnership between government, private sector and civil society. The future lies in building and sustaining triad partnerships. This will support the objective of enhancing the women’s resilience to external shocks by creating sustainable livelihoods. Pandemics magnify existing inequalities.  Responding to a catastrophe of this scale certainly requires a concerted global effort, we are learning this now. COVID-19 has challenged us in many ways to be more innovative, reflective and more importantly to appreciate the inter-connectedness of humankind. Innovation is important not only in these corona times, let us look beyond COVID-19 and think collectively of robust mechanisms to be better prepared should a pandemic of this magnitude strike again. The coming together of different stakeholders to address this global crisis is a lesson for history and humanity. These acts of good-will and solidarity must continue post COVID-19.

Zubo Trust has to be applauded for thriving in these tough times and for continuing to contribute to the macro-economic development of the country. The organisation is certainly living up to its name of uplifting communities and improving the lives of families. Challenges or not!

#resilience #communitybuilding #ruralempowerment #innovation #socialprotection  #communitymobilising #publichealthcrisis  #climatechange

Fishing culture in Binga: Indigenous foods – from source to table

By Tandi Pilani

Some weeks ago many of us commemorated Africa month and I was overcome with nostalgia. A trip down memory lane reminded me of the continent’s rich resources. Natural resources! Healthy eating and nutrition are important subjects nowadays as we become more and more conscious of what we eat, and promote sustainable farming  #organic food. My high school experience in Zimbabwe was influential.  The A level Food Studies syllabus project involved independent research.  I chose to focus on the introduction of traditional foods into the modern diet. You may ask yourselves why so. I came up with the topic owing to my relationship with food from childhood. 

Traditional food memories, my inspiration

Top of the list is umfushwa as it is called by amaNdebele (people from the south-western part of Zimbabwe). The preparation involves cooking and sun drying green leafy vegetables such as the kale variety including Chou moellier. This preservative method is symbolic of my mother’s upbringing and she passed this on to my siblings and I. Secondly, Pumpkin leaves, Cucurbitaceae Telfairia, (Ibhobola in isiNdebele) are characterised by their large lobes and prickly spines. They are a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium, protein, vitamins A, B and C. Thirdly, the ultimate comfort dish, steamed mealie bread, commonly accompanied with additions like vegetables and meat, was a treat especially in the winter months.

The creative in me decided to use my project as a way to try out four new dishes. 1)Melon jam, 2)Pumpkin cake, 3) Snot apple powder, (snot apple is Uxakuxaku in IsiNdebele. A friend humorously admitted that trying to pronounce the word really tested her tounge clicking abilities) 4) Caterpillar biscuits. I thoroughly enjoyed the product development experience, however, that conversation is to follow in a future post.

Today is about fish. The Zambezi River hosts a school of fish including Tilapia, Bream, Kapenta and Swordfish. The river is en-route to the Indian Ocean and flows through six countries, Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. My experience in Binga, the north-western part of Zimbabwe, incited more curiosity around indigenous foods. The optimum times for fishing are between March and August and the BaTonga, located in Binga, rely on fish as a good source of protein.

Traditionally it was the Tonga women who fished using Zubo baskets. However, the ethnic group was displaced by the construction of the Kariba dam during colonial times. 2012 marked the year when the women were able to engage in fishing projects again, a most welcome development since the resettlement in the late 1950s. With the help of the Bbindawuko Women Fishing Project the women were able to take up their spaces in the male dominated industry.

A collaboration between Zubo Trust and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs brought together three women’s organisations managing the aquaculture agricultural initiatives. The women were trained about the value of forming an association, a platform to raise their concerns at the meetings with the fisher-men where conversations about fishing projects took place. This was a necessary move as fishing is now male dominated and it is important that the women speak with a collective voice.

Fish farming project

Times have been difficult, severe drought coupled with hyperinflation has negatively affected the members of the Bbindawuko Women Fishing Cooperative. The drying up of the Zambezi River resulted in low kapenta catches and the water levels in the river have been decreasing since August 2019. This has had a devastating effect on the environment. Additionally, it has been impossible to keep up with the running costs of the rigs as well as the National Park remittances. The fishing rigs are not fully operational and the constant breakdowns have led to the women discontinuing their fish trading activities.

Consumption of fish locally

Although Kariba bream (Tilapia) and Kapenta fish are available, people now consume more beef than fish. This is based on a recent small sample survey of a 100 people. The shift towards beef is mostly for economic reasons.

Market consumption based on 100 people

“Original Tonga Traditional Cooking Methods”

The fish would be oiled and laid on twigs placed at the base of the pot. The twigs were placed on the base of a clay pot and the fish was laid on top.  Green leafy small vegetables known as “Chamudonga” in ChiTonga grow naturally on river banks. The vegetables would be prepared using the steaming method for a few minutes. Clay is a good conductor of heat and the food can be kept warm for up to three hours after cooking. Typically the fish could be served with rice, steamed potatoes or a maize meal thick porridge, isitshwala.

A variation to the above dish would instead incorporate an onion and tomato sauce and the addition of a flavour enhancer Hibiscus sabdariffa, popularly known as Rosella, a versatile plant that grows naturally in Binga. Alternatively used to add colour to jams and syrups, it has a high vitamin C content.  

Fish oil as prevalent in these traditional cooking methods would be extracted from the initial cooking process and preserved for future use. Fish has natural oils and is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Commonly fish and other meat products would be served with a variation of a thick porridge whose base ingredient would be maize, millet, sorghum or rapoko. Thick porridge is a staple consistency of dried grains cooked in water. In ChiTonga that consistency is called Insima, the most popular being  Insima yamayila (amabele/sorghum) and Insima yanzembwe (inyawuthi/millet). The diet is highly nutritional.

The benefits of fish
Fish is a natural source of protein, omega oils, B-complex vitamins, vitamin D and vitamin A and micro-nutrients such as zinc, iodine and iron. Inspired by the delicious Zambezi bream that I was served during my stay, I decided to improvise and come up with a recipe. I substituted the River Bream for Sea Bream and made a Sea-bream & Lemongrass dish.


2 boneless sea bream

For the marinade
4 tablespoons of olive oil

I tsp of chopped ginger

1 stalk of lemon grass

1 sprig of fresh thyme

½ lemon squeezed

2 cloves of garlic ( finely chopped)

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Peel the stalks and then bash the stalks with a rolling pin, this will break down the cell structure and make easy the release of the aromatic flavours.
  3. Marinate the fish for approximately 30 minutes so that the flavours seep in.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius/Gas Mark 6 (10 min before cooking time)
  5. Wrap the marinated fish in very lightly oiled aluminium foil and place in the middle shelf of the oven.
  6. Cook for 17 minutes. Serve with seasonal vegetables.
  7. My side dishes were roast potatoes, butternut and green beans, with a lemon grass sauce

Lemongrass, scientific name – Cymbopogn of the  Poaceae family grows naturally in Binga. Introducing the herb into my recipes was particularly motivated by the fact that it is grown by the Zubo women.  The complexities of the continental drift are so interesting, for instance one would not commonly associate the botanics such as lemongrass from Asia to Binga in Africa. The multifunctional herb is not only known for its culinary uses but also for its skincare and remedial uses.

Lemongrass growing in Zubo’s Nutrition Garden


I have come full circle. My high school studies have connected me to the work I do now. The intersections between malnutrition, gender and household dynamics are apparent. Marginalised communities have to maintain sustainable methods of farming. Rural women play a central role in food production but face many constraints, for example the cessation of the fish farming project referred to earlier due to environmental and financial challenges. The low kapenta catches cited reinforce the importance of biodiversity. Organisations such as The World Fish Centre support initiatives for rural women. Many parallels can be drawn with the countries where the research is conducted.

Indigenous foods certainly have a place in our diets today. We need to make conscious efforts to advance sustainable development. Documentation of traditional food systems is critical and should be passed on to future generations. I am of the opinion that the relationship between food and culture is intimate. There is so much one can learn from inter-generational stories about traditional foods. Lately I have been positively influenced by the Chef and Author of Through the Eyes of an African Chef, a self-published cookbook by Nompumelo Mqwebu. This great piece of work received the Gourmand Best In The World Cookbook Award.  Mqwebu’s passion for the promotion of preserving African traditional cooking is indubitible. I follow her work and she challenges me to think more of how to address malnutrition with readily available produce.  It is about creatively incorporating indigenous foods into our daily diets.

The journey goes on, I am keen to engage more on projects which document and appreciate indigenous foods. Traditional foods need a renaissance. Living in contemporary times means not to lose our culinary heritage.

#womeninfishfarming #foodsecurity #socialinnovation #livelihoods #teachinglanguagethroughfood #sustainabledevelopmentgoals

Economic empowerment: The women of the Zambezi Valley


Binga is in Zimbabwe and located in the north-western part of the country. It was built to rehouse the BaTonga people whose homelands were flooded when Lake Kariba was created. It is indeed a hidden gem and you will soon understand why. Situated south of  Lake Kariba and six hours drive from the majestic  Victoria Falls, it is a magnificent place that is known little about.

Did you know that Zimbabwe is home to a sandy beach? Not many think of Binga as a centre for fishing, boating and cultural activities.

The importance of networks

A Linkedin post by a sound and media artist caught my attention seven years ago. The post outlined a media project named “Ibhayiskopo” in Bulawayo.  After following up on the artist and upon acquaintance with her, it transpired that we would both be travelling to Zimbabwe around the same time.  We met and I was told about the hard-working women of Zubo Trust. [Zubo means fishing basket in Tonga]. The seven year partnership has been fulfilling.

Inspired by the story of rural women finding routes out of poverty, I did not need much convincing and decided I would do whatever I could to support.  For years I had wanted to get involved in initiatives at community level, this was my opportunity. By way of email, I was introduced to the Executive Director of Zubo Trust. The rest they say is history!  Radio Continental Drift has done a fantastic job of documenting the stories which touch on the daily lives of the women, their economic projects as well as their rich history. Gender imbalance has played a part in the persistence of this poverty, but I must add that progress has been made to address this.

My first trip to Binga

My work with Zubo Trust has been ongoing since 2014. Thanks to remote technology, we connect mainly by email and other online tools. In early 2019 I decided to visit, so I scheduled in a trip whilst I was on holiday. Finally I was going to meet the team of Zubo Trust, this filled me with excitement Virtual communication works, but nothing beats face- to-face meetings. With a tight agenda, I set off on my journey, an 8-hour road trip from Bulawayo to Binga via Cross Dete. Together with the Zubo women, we had planned for me to visit two sites, a soap production workshop and Zubo’s Ilala crafts project where the signature baskets of the BaTonga women are woven.

The initial stage of basket weaving using ilala palm



In 2018 Zimbabwe ranked 150 out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index (UNDP, 2019). The life expectancy stands at 61.2 at birth.


Although there is a lot to appreciate in the Binga District, awareness of this is low. One of the reasons is due to poor accessibility. The roads leading to Binga are under-developed. A four-wheel drive is extremely necessary to travel to that part of the country, particularly the roads from Cross Dete to Binga which have not been redone and require maintenance.

The Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba attract many backpackers/tourists, the same cannot be said for Binga.  In recent years there has been a gradual increase in the number of visitors, however I still believe that more should be done to promote local tourism. Efforts have been made to encourage heads of schools to feature Binga on their educational excursion lists.

The airstrip has boosted the economy, linking Binga to Victoria Falls and Hwange, but the real question is just how many can afford to fly? Not many. Realistically speaking it is mainly international travellers and the affluent/ middle class who can afford the service. Most people travel by foot.

Wi-Fi/Connectivity issues and electricity short supply

This makes remote meetings difficult to coordinate and requires flexibility.

Weak and unstable telecommunication networks make access to advanced online communication difficult or unreliable; plus, costs for Wi-Fi access are very high, often above national average due to just one provider in the area; thus, for many modems and “daily bundles” are the budget option.


Matabeleland North has comparatively less rainfall than the national average. Farming in this region is thus limited to drought-resistant crops such as sorghum, millet, rapoko and livestock production. Since the forced resettlement of the BaTonga the district has always depended on food supply from outside; local yields cannot feed the population.

There is limited rainfall in a year, 755mm and the average temperature is 24°C . The erratic weather patterns and climate extremes threaten agricultural production, food security, health, water and energy security in Zimbabwe. Severe and prolonged droughts, flooding and loss of arable land due to desertification and soil erosion negatively affects agricultural yields. This results in crop failure and in very unfortunate circumstances, loss of livestock. In the recent 2019/20 drought this was the case! Zubo women saving projects are often centred around livestock, i.e. chickens, goats. The poor are hardest hit because of their vulnerability to the effects of climate change. In February 2020 the region experienced severe floods.

Livelihood projects

Hand-made natural soap

The jatropha seed grows naturally in the region, which has the best soils for its growth. It is a fast growing, drought -resistant indigenous plant of the local bushland, commonly it has found usage as hedge around homesteads

Jathropha seed
Jathropha seeds before extraction

In 2015, with support from Welthaus Bielefeld a jatropha soap-production workshop was built to house an oil extractor.

Oil extracted from the seed

The soap making process

The black seeds are pressed, and the clear oil produced is poured into moulds. The solidifying process takes 3-4 days. Precision is taken when cutting the moulds into pieces.

The hand-crafted soap, which is packaged according to EU standards, is sold to local lodges.  The pieces have previously been exhibited at events such as the Harare Agricultural Show, the Lusaka Fair 2018 and the ZITF

The natural oil soap has been received well in Germany.  Now more than ever natural products are on the rise in the commercial market. A Zubo volunteer is currently pursuing studies in Germany and she had been doing a sterling job of promoting the product at fair-trade workshops. We chatted a couple of days ago and she advised that the attracted clientele is particularly keen on the soap not only because it is made using natural resources, but also for its environmentally friendly packaging. Parchment paper is used as wrapping. This is ideal as globally we are going green and moving away from using plastic. The right steps are being taken towards saving the planet! Innovation at its best. The goal is to reach a wider international market.

Practicing hygiene is important now more than ever due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The soap is utilised by the women, their families and the wider community.

Testimony *motivation*

One client who attended the 2019 Good Food Festival in Harare shared a testimony “I have a six-year-old daughter with skin problems. We tried so many different products with no success. I bought the soap at the festival and seen the best improvement in her skin since she started using it”. 

Ilala palm basket weaving

Ilala basket weaving is a long-standing tradition of the BaTonga women. Binga District and the BaTonga are well known for their unique baskets within Zimbabwe and internationally.

Communal craft weaving provides a social space for women’s coherence. This collaborative working approach gives the women an opportunity to learn skills from each other. The more experienced weavers take the lead on ensuring quality control measures are in place. I met with the women at Siachilaba Ward and they gave me an update on the challenges, one of them being around transportation of big calabash baskets from the wards to Binga Town Centre. A large vehicle was cited as a need to transport their wares.  The conversation was made possible by translation from Tonga to Ndebele.  As they chatted away whilst working, I enquired how long it takes to make a basket and one of ladies responded, “In one day, I can produce a basket. I have to perform household chores, however, so it takes me 3 days to produce a basket of 30 cm in diameter”.

The baskets’ colour variations are due to natural dyes such as red ivory.

One thing that came out strongly was the solidarity amongst the women. Their lives seemed to be interwoven. Despite the difficulties, they soldier on!

Communal basket weaving at community level, here the Bunsiwa weavers near Siachilaba, one of the local groups partnering with Zubo

Zubo Trust works in partnership with the Lupane Women’s Centre, Zim Handcraft and Collaborative Crafts Project, this has increased the income of the craft weavers.

The baskets are available for purchase at the National Art Gallery or from the curio stalls outside of the Large City Hall, Bulawayo.

National Art Gallery, Bulawayo

What other projects (initiatives) do the women work on?

Baobab fruit project

The baobab, commonly known as a superfood, is used by the women to produce juice and powder (which can be used to make yoghurt). The seeds are also used to make cooking oil.

Appropriate storage facilities are necessary, and funding is needed if the projects are to be sustainable. The Baobab Muyaya is one of the most successful projects.

The baobab value chain has offered a route out of poverty not only for small scale farmers, but wild collectors and their families have benefited as well.

Fishing Rig and fisheries

Historically the women did the fishing on the Zambezi, which was a stream. On construction of the Kariba Dam it became a lake and women were prohibited from performing their roles. It was now a male only industry!

Breaking the barriers! Since displacement of the Tonga’s in the 1950s, the first ever Bbindawuko Women Fishing Project at Simatelele Ward was formed in 2012.

The women are now the breadwinners and in positions to employ the men. One thing that has been maintained is the respect that they have for their husbands.

Kapenta fish farming is a source of livelihood for the community. However, depreciating water levels in the Kariba dam affect the catches by the fishers on the lake. Economic constraints present problems, the returns from selling the kapenta do not cover the admin costs which include the fuel for the boats and servicing of the rigs. The project also includes bream, tilapia and tiger fish.

The importance of partnerships

In addition to Welthaus Bielefeld and the Lupane Women’s Centre,  Zubo Trust benefits from partnerships with St. Annen Soap Manufacturer. The Zubo women received training in producing soap in accordance with EU standards. St Annen then became the German importer of Zubo’s Jatropha soap, as well as Weidmuller, a German company who went into a two-year contract with Zubo. The pieces of soap that they import in large quantities are used as promotional gifts for clients by the company.

Radio continental drift has continued ongoing relations with the Zubo women since 2012 for voluntary media support, training and advice.

EMIC Media is a UK publishing house that focuses on media development for NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and CSOs (civil society organisations). EMIC which stands for (Empower, Mentor, Inspire, Connect) tracks the progress on the roles of government, CSOs and business towards achieving the UN SDGs 2030 agenda. The organisation is playing a key role in promoting monitoring and evaluation, ensuring that Zubo projects (objectives) are in line with the relevant SDGs.

To facilitate mindset change, Zubo Trust engaged with a men’s organisation, PADARE.  Men’s Forums were formed in 2012 to address gender issues. The main task of the forum was to provide a platform for sharing information and knowledge on women’s rights and to exchange their experiences and progress in mobilising other men to participate in the movement for a gender sensitive community.

Cultural values and expectations led to women’s inequality of public space. The organisation worked closely with local leaders and other stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Women Affairs, to influence the shift in attitude towards such practices in the district of Binga. The benefits of working with the men, and not in antagonism, were realised when the traditional leadership welcomed the rural womens’ venture into the male dominated space of fishing, for example the kapenta project. Strategic advocacy!

Success stories

Access to Finance

The Village Lending and Saving Schemes have transformed the lives of the women. The initiative which involved pooling resources together kicked off in 2012. In that year (2012) a total of 694 women was able to produce 23, 500 USD

However, due to climate change related food insecurity, they had to cease operating between 2014-2017.

For the period 2018-2019 achievements noted were the construction of low-cost houses, purchasing of livestock such as goats, improving the nutritional well- being of their families and paying school fees for their children.


While substantial progress was made by the Government of Zimbabwe in developing educational opportunities for the indigenous since in the 1980s, only a minor fraction of the Tonga women are/were educated, with the majority being illiterate.

In recent years the women have used the proceeds from the income generating projects, specifically ilala basket weaving and the soap making projects. This has opened opportunities for them to attend adult education centres.

Zubo’s elder sister organisation, Basilwizi Trust runs an education and cultural program which makes education accessible to marginalised individuals. “The Zambezi Valley Refrain” 2016 tells the story of the successful fight of the BaTonga through Basilwizi for the rights of their own indigenous language. This made way for the recognition of minority languages in Zimbabwe as a whole.

Today ChiTonga can be studied up to university level. This accomplishment became the foundation for self-empowerment on many other levels.

Other benefits

Positive changes in family dynamics, with gender balance being realised in terms of roles and responsibilities.

Some women have been able to send their children to school, especially the girl-child. A lack of social protection in marginalised communities has a bearing on their education. In Binga the girl-child faces many challenges, having to walk up to 20 km to and from school and also perform household chores. This discourages some girls from completing their education and thus dropping out. Therefore, initiatives such as the lending saving schemes are very instrumental in bridging that gap. Throughout the years, Zubo has done exceptional work through their Women Forums, which have taken care not only of sharing income with the needy in the community, but also with the elders and orphans. Zubo has also played a big part in promoting and tracking girl-child education!

Scenic Binga

Binga District has such beautiful landscapes, I was totally blown away by the hills and plains which were breath-taking. I must confess I asked myself why it took me so long to visit.

I took a drive with colleagues of Zubo Trust from the Lake Inn Lodge to the Chibwatata Hot Springs, (also called the miracle waters by the locals). There is a lot of history about the rain ceremony calling and the displacement of the BaTonga: Find here an interview with ritual rain maker, Thembi Ngwagi aka Gogo.

On the way to the hot springs we stopped to capture the beautiful view of the Zambezi River. It was magical and the atmosphere was serene. I was in complete awe of the natural beauty.

Zambezi River
Sandy beach

As you drive around Binga (or walk as most of the locals do), the routes are picturesque, with baobab trees on either side of the road. As per Tonga mythology they are called the upside-down tree, owing to their structure, the tree trunks spanning almost 25 metres. Not only are they fascinating to look at, but they have nutritional, medicinal and traditional uses, hence named “the tree of life”. The trees thrive in Matebeleland North which is dry with limited rainfall.

Baobab tree overlooking the Zambezi River

Concluding thoughts

The beauty of Binga is undeniable and within that community there is so much talent, human resource and potential to tap into. The women led pioneering initiatives are made possible through the coordinated team efforts. They have the technical know-how and are well organised. Additionally, they are resilient and continue to thrive despite the numerous predicaments that they face. That link between ecotourism and economic empowerment needs to be strengthened.

Capacity building is central to empowerment. With consistent financial support the Zubo women can reach great heights. Learning how to work together as women and men is critical to advancing community development and this should be ongoing. My involvement with Zubo Trust has illuminated to me the significance of giving women the space to grow. Zubo Trust has done exceptional work over the years in this respect, which could inspire many other organisations. They are unstoppable and I envision more prosperity. In order to achieve the UN SDG Agenda 2030, we need to connect with all levels of society. We cannot leave rural communities and women behind, after all they [women] hold up half the sky. We can do more to help these women who are the heartbeat of society. True agents of change!

Stay tuned for more on the women’s self empowerment journeys.

By Tandi Pilani

Looking at COVID-19 with a gendered lens: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe


In times of war, conflict and outbreaks such as COVID-19, it is women and girls who are hit the hardest. The last few weeks have been filled with news on this global pandemic; the media continues to pay full attention to the novel coronavirus. As the situation deteriorates in the UK, I cannot help but think about how the virus will impact on the global south, particularly Zimbabwe. I have been mulling over the challenges that the people of Bulawayo and the rest of Matebeleland could potentially face?

Coping with this catastrophe

What strategies do we have lined up to ensure that indeed no-one is left behind in line with the 2030 agenda?

Pre-coronavirus, the majority of Zimbabweans were not enjoying their full economic, social and cultural rights.

The US and UK are struggling to contain this epidemic which is about to devastate the developing world. The National Health Service (NHS) has called back retired staff to help tackle the outbreak. So, what does it mean for the average Zimbabwean who survives on less than 1 USD a day? Or for those in hard to reach areas in Matebeleland North? According to the World Bank poverty rose from 29% in 2018 to 34% in 2019, an increase from 4.7 to 5.7 million people.

The world is taking precautionary steps to minimise the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown or quarantine is our “new norm”. Around the globe, schools are closed, parents are juggling home-schooling whilst fulfilling their professional commitments remotely. This is my situation in the UK, and for most countries across the world, a new reality for the next few months. “Self-isolate and keep connected with friends and family remotely” is what we have been encouraged to do. How about the marginalised with no means of communicating remotely? This presents an additional set of problems for those who are depressed or have anxiety issues and need that social interaction for their well-being.

So yes, we are adjusting, following government guidelines and going out only to buy the basics. The advice is to stock up on food and other essentials. To affluent families this can be achieved. I am however cognisant that this is not the same for families facing economic challenges. This pandemic is bringing out the stark societal inequalities.


Home isolation will not be the same for the woman or girl who has a myriad of challenges to deal with before we even begin to have the discussion on the coronavirus.

The World Health Organisation guidance recommends “washing hands regularly with soap and water”. Due to the economic hardships there are members of society that cannot afford soap. The practical challenges cannot be ignored. Water does not run freely in every household which leads to the issue of gender roles and unpaid care work. What happens to the women and girls who ordinarily congregate and collect water from community boreholes for domestic use? This is a necessary daily routine task which could present potential problems in this current context. A mind-set change is necessary now as social distancing and self-isolation become key. Overcrowding should be avoided in order to contain the spread of the virus.


Awareness raising is important and whilst some know about COVID-19 to others it is a “global pandemic that will seemingly affect those abroad”. There are so many perceptions. The understanding of this pandemic is at different levels hence demystifying the information is critical. Translation of the messages into local languages can go a long way in ensuring that as many people as possible become knowledgeable on how best they can protect themselves and others in their communities. It is good to see that in the last few days material has been made available in local languages; more dissemination is imperative.

Using local radio, news channels and the voices of local celebrities to convey the messages will heighten alertness and further illuminate the gravity of situation. No-one should be excluded, the aim is to conscientise at all levels.

Not everyone has access to social media bundles, which creates a gap. Information shared via social media platforms therefore does not reach all members of society. How do we ensure inclusivity?

The UK National Health Service NHS guidelines recommend that you do not leave your home if you have a high temperature. In the context of Zimbabwe, the same proactive measures can be applied to minimise travel to clinics or hospitals. The test can be done at home without using a thermometer. “If you feel hot on your chest or back, then you know you have a high temperature”. Such information should be shared widely, in local languages, so that the appropriate isolation steps are taken, without necessarily seeing a health worker.

The healthcare systems

Thorngrove Infectious Hospital in Bulawayo has been identified as the isolation centre for individuals who test positive for COVID-19. The referral hospital for 5 regions, was built in 1941 and needs maintenance. More importantly the healthcare professionals need protective clothing. The lack of appropriate clothing for hospital staff can deter them from reporting to work as was seen in the last two weeks, where a number of nurses walked out of Mpilo Central Hospital, the largest hospital in Bulawayo. Their ask: The provision of PPE clothing as per the WHO guidelines.

The El Nino induced drought in recent years, and other socio-economic problems have led to many households in rural settings being faced with food insecurity. Now how does one who contracts COVID-19 fight against it if they are malnourished? Those with pre-existing medical conditions are particularly at risk. The nexus between poverty and the pandemic is evident.

The inability of the economically challenged to stock up on food supplies contributes to people travelling into the Central Business District (CBD) frequently to queue for maize meal and other basic commodities. People are advised to practice social distancing and stand one metre apart from each other. How is this possible in a highly densely populated area?

Concluding thoughts

A multi-stakeholder approach is the answer to putting comprehensive strategies in place to strengthen the health systems particularly in public hospitals. In the absence of robust social welfare programs what happens?

Undeniably there are challenging times ahead, the inequalities are real, and like with any other catastrophe, women and girls bear the brunt of the burden. In most cases they are the primary caregivers, looking after both nuclear and/or extended families. The ailing economic situation does not help. Sexual health and reproductive rights (SRHR) cannot be left out of this discussion. The lack of clean water as well as limited financial resources for menstrual hygiene products will certainly affect some members of the population. Girls from disadvantaged backgrounds who experience period poverty will be affected.

The coronavirus is certainly something we could have done without, globally. The rapid escalation is concerning. However, this is where we are and now is the time to find solutions. The 21-day lockdown in Zimbabwe officially began last week. Urgent coordinated action is necessary. These are trying times and I salute the frontline public health workers who are already doing a fantastic job, working passionately with very limited resources. Online fundraising campaigns have been set up worldwide to respond to this crisis, the diaspora also have a huge role to play in supporting our key health workers. In the last few weeks it has become apparent humanity is important. We are all interconnected. The whole word has been moved by this public health emergency crisis, a virus which knows no boundaries. These are uncertain times, but I choose to be optimistic and say, “this too shall pass”.

The views of the author are personal.

Tandi Pilani, Women’s Rights Advocate