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Cheer up, better times ahead for world economy – Steve Forbes

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One of the world’s leading voices on business believes better times could be round the corner for the United States economy despite uncertainty over North Korea.

Steve Forbes – a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who ran twice for president – spoke to editors and publishers of the many versions of the magazine around the world, including Forbes Africa. The conference, at the Forbes Media center on Fifth Avenue in New York, was part of the 100-year celebrations of the world-famous business magazine. It was Forbes’ chance to show his stripes as the eternal optimist in US capitalism.

“I think you will see the US economy showing signs of life over the next three months, you will see a growth rate of more than 3%, maybe more,” says Forbes.

“I think there will be a big tax cut soon, there has to be. Republicans may not be the fastest thinking people in the world, but half the senate is up for re-election and not too many of them want to end up as an Uber driver.”

A Mad Decision Paying Off 100 Years Later

Forbes believes that the politicians could come up with a vote-winning cut in corporate tax, from 38.9% to 18%, or even as low as 15%. He believes this could stimulate the economy.

“A little growth goes a long way. Bill Clinton survived all of his scandals as president because the economy was growing. By contrast, Richard Nixon was kicked out because the economy was struggling.”

On the trade front, the threats from President Donald Trump to slap tariffs on everything to protect business may not come to pass.

“I think the reality will be much gentler than the rhetoric, especially if the economy is growing,” says Forbes.

Forbes Magazine: 100 Years Of Hits And Flops

Yet the Editor-in-Chief of Forbes believes the US will be tough against the nuclear threat of North Korea.

“If they attack us they know they will be obliterated no matter what happens. The feeling is strong here that North Korea does not take us seriously. The US will increase sanctions, including cutting North Korea out of the world banking system. We have had sanctions before and they hurt North Korea.”

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Arts

The Baskets Holding Them Together

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The female basket-weavers of Rwanda. When destiny failed them, they saw hope, in gentle strands of sisal and grass. The art helped them heal, reconcile and live again.

‘Art As A Reconciliatory Tool’

As dusk descends on the verdant valleys of Kigali, the green of the city’s rolling hills and its red terraced homes relinquish their arresting appeal to the most sparkling jewel of the night – the landmark Kigali Convention Centre (KCC), easily one of Africa’s brightest spots, with its multi-tiered colors and unique architectural aesthetic.

The Kigali Convention Centre’s design inspired by the traditional Rwandan baskets

It is striking in contrast to the landscape around and occupies center-stage, both in the city as well as the psyche of the proud Rwandan. Resembling the traditional, intricate, hand-woven Agaseke basket, the KCC stands atop the hills as a symbol of hope in Rwanda, and as a beacon of a new Africa.

It’s a sight most reassuring for the plethora of female artisans and entrepreneurs in the country. In villages and districts far from this dome in the city center, women sit huddled together in tiny cooperatives weaving with nimble fingers beautiful Agaseke baskets, in all forms, shapes and sizes, oblivious to the impact their creations have on the tourism economy – and more so, in their own lives.

Bella Rukwavu of the Agaseke Project

Bella Rukwavu, Project Coordinator of the Agaseke Project, which was initiated by the City of Kigali in 2007, recounts the beginnings of some of these cooperatives, after the new government took over, post the horrific genocide against the Tutsi that left a million dead across the country.

“When the city was trying to reorganize itself, part of the problem was the streets were filled with women hawkers, prostitutes, the disabled and the sexually-abused,” says Rukwavu.

There had to be a sustainable, lasting solution that gave the destitute women, most of them widows and survivors of the genocide, a viable alternative, and the idea for cooperatives training them with the art of basket-weaving was born.

The women had a natural flair for it, as basket-weaving was an inherent part of their upbringing and culture, so they could be easily skilled. The women were a mix of both ethnic groups, Tutsis and Hutus, and slowly, surely, through their collective efforts sewing sisal fiber and grass to make and sell objects of beauty, put their ugly past behind them.

The City of Kigali now oversees the Agaseke Project with 2,000 women, distributed among 50 cooperatives in three districts across Kigali.

 “The project acted as a reconciliatory tool and promoted peace,” says Rukwavu, in the car as we drive from the City Council to Gatsata sector in Gasabo district to meet with some of the artisans at the cooperative located there. “In some cases, both the victims of the genocide and the wives of the perpetrators worked together, and the art unified them. They have forgotten their differences. Today, they all live as Rwandans.”

Past the thatched homes on the hillside, and up a muddy road, the red earth leads to a one-storied edifice with yellowing walls and blue windows. Here, a group of 25 women sit on the hard cement floor, indulging in light banter and expertly weaving dyed sisal, grass and papyrus reeds to create a raft of colorful basket containers. These are arranged on a wooden shelf and on frayed floor mats.

On the shelf are two wooden boxes with locks. This is where the women store their money as part of their self-styled loan-and-savings scheme; the boxes a repository of their collective earnings – and trust.

The cooperative receives orders from clients in the United States (US), Europe and Japan. The baskets have given the women economic security and a social network. Says Rukwavu: “Some of these women are doing so well and have become so successful they have come out of these cooperatives to start businesses of their own, making diversified products and selling them elsewhere.”

The Agaseke Project is but one snapshot of the larger community of female basket-weavers in Rwanda. In the pages that follow, FORBES AFRICA visits more social enterprises, profiling the artists, artisans and entrepreneurs this industry has spawned. In a country where drones are delivering medical supplies and innovation is a daily buzzword, these women are keeping alive a traditional art form that has found its way into the snazzy department stores and boutiques of the world. To them, fortune is not dollar figures, but mere survival. Their future is in their own hands.

The Single Survivor

Catherine Uwimana, 48

In Gikondo, about a 30-minute drive from the city, a dirt road with a morass of overhead power and telephone cables leads to an unassuming grey gate with colors bursting within. These are the premises of Talking Through Art, a not-for-profit focused on art-related employment opportunities for people with physical disabilities. It was started by Petr Kočnar, from the Czech Republic, who initially came to Rwanda from Kenya to learn French. He encountered destitute people with disabilities on the street and decided to start the center in 2015 with his own savings, to rehabilitate them with art therapy and traditional basket-weaving.

Each of the 25 women, young and old, at this center make about $5 for each of the medium baskets they craft. Placide Ndacyayisenga, the manager, offers a cup of steaming Rwandan coffee, and pointing to the dainty handcrafted bowls on the walls, says: “The baskets we make are inspired by nature, such as the sun, the birds and the baobab trees. Foreign tourists buy from here and our products are also available in premium boutiques and gift shops in Kigali. The artisans here were wandering the streets before, now they can sustain their families, and even have bank accounts.”

One such is Catherine Uwimana. She lost her right leg during the genocide, hit by a grenade when in hiding at her home in Kacyiru.

Save for her older sister, all her family died around her. Having never married, Uwimana lives alone and is grateful she makes enough money weaving baskets to feed herself and pay her rent. “I have been here four years now and this is my family,” she says in Kinyarwanda, her eyes not concealing the pain of her past. “These baskets give me hope for the future.”

Baskets To Theater

Emilienne Muhawenimana, 35

Muhawenimana arrives at the Talking Through Art center in Gikondo riding a scooter. It’s hard to tell she is polio-afflicted and needs crutches to walk. Muhawenimana’s nature-inspired paintings light up the walls here just as she does. She leans against one of them, posing genially for pictures. One of the most prolific basket-weavers at the center, she is today into stage plays, and even traveling outside of Rwanda as part of theater groups. “She was one of our best basket-weavers and is a good actress today,” beams Placide Ndacyayisenga, the center’s manager. The multi-talented Muhawenimana also recites poems and mentions her work with the British Council; one of the many empowered at the center to make a living through art.    

The 8-To-5 Weaver

Vestine Nyiravesabimana, 49

A mother of nine children, Nyiravesabimana has been weaving baskets at the Agaseke Project cooperative in Gazabo district for the last 12 years. Making an average of $5 per fruit bowl that she handcrafts, over time, she has been able to send her children to school. She makes a minimum of $100 a month, working 8AM to 5PM through the week.

She is vaguely aware her creations sell well locally, to NGOs and at retail shops, but also “far, far away”, in America and Japan, lands she will perhaps never see.

Some of the women working with her face immense hurdles to come to work. But the project has helped Nyiravesabimana attain economic independence. Her husband, who works as a plumber, respects her more now, she says; they have fewer quarrels.      

“She also knows how to bank,” says Agaseke’s project coordinator Rukwavu. “She has an independent bank account.” Nyiravesabimana is also a part of the loan-and-savings scheme at the cooperative with her fellow female weavers. Working collaboratively in a group with the other women has helped her speed on the time-intensive art, as the more baskets she crafts, the more money she makes.

Dressed in a cheerful red chitenge outfit, her megawatt smile fills the small room she is in, as she gives the finishing touches to yet another signature fiber container that will make its way out of Africa to the world beyond.

The peace-maker

Farida Umuhoza, 43

A bored housewife for a long time until she discovered her skill crafting baskets, Umuhoza was with the Agaseke Project cooperative in Nyarugenge district for seven fruitful years from 2010.

A self-made entrepreneur today retailing her own range of handmade products, she is thankful for that epiphany, as today, she is the sole bread-winner for her family, supporting a sick husband and two children – a son aged 23 and a daughter aged 21.

We meet Umuhoza at her make-shift shop at the far-end of the car-free exhibition zone, by the towering citadels of capitalism in the heart of Kigali.         

At the Agaseke cooperative, she shone with her expertise weaving baskets, quickly moving on to open her own permanent shop, named Chic, in a shopping mall in downtown Kigali. Umuhoza has been expanding her business since.     

She also designs chitenge clothing, but her specialty is “the peace-maker, a sort of an oven made of fabric, sponge and cotton wool that saves energy and time and keeps food warm”. She sells it from $20 to $40 a piece, depending on the size.

As we speak, she pauses to “hello and welcome” curious shoppers, mainly international tourists, who walk in to look at her collection of baskets, clothes, and African bric-à-brac. Her attentive son hovers around her, as she settles the deal with a woman bargaining for a wooden stool.

Her finances have been stable, she says, as she has been able to meet her husband’s medical expenses, educate her children and re-stock her shop. She has traveled across East Africa, invited to showcase her baskets, and even once to the Netherlands for further training.

She has come a long way from her 18-year-old self when she lost her entire family in 1994, during the genocide against the Tutsi. 

As the sun dips on this August evening, her shop gets busier with office commuters and government workers, her largest clientele.

She is grateful for every sunrise and sunset. “Back then, sitting under the hot sun, weaving them, the baskets taught me about life. I knew they would take me out of poverty. Dare to start, don’t ever quit!” she says, before attending to yet another paying client.

The community builder

Mukeshimana Grace, 52 

Mukeshimana Grace

The Nyamirambo Women’s Center, an NGO on a bustling street in Nyamirambo, is a hive of activity the afternoon we visit. The cooperative doubles as a charming shop retailing all kinds of delectable African print clothing, accessories, home decor and trinkets, and buzzes with dollar-waving foreign tourists. Grace is about to give a presentation on the art of basket-weaving to them when we meet her. She has been mastering the craft for over six years now and says she has had a life-long connection with weaving, having learned it at her mother’s knee.

In an ante-room at the center, women are hard at work at their sewing machines. There are 55 seamstresses here turning cloth into craft.

“I enjoy being a part of a community, and building it.

– Mukeshimana Grace

The shop offers a sense of community and camaraderie as visitors stop by to chat to the staff. Launched in 2007 by 18 Rwandese women to address gender-based violence and inequality, today, the center provides skills and training to women so they can better their chances for employment. It’s a self-sustaining model, also offering tours into the neighborhood. The profits from the tours go back into paying the seamstresses and funding more community engagement initiatives.

Mary Nyangoma

Mary Nyangoma, Project Manager at the center, who has been a part of it from inception, finds time to break away from the unending stream of clients. She says: “Sewing is very popular in this neighborhood. Some of the women with us never got a chance to go to school, so we also taught them to read and write. And we came up with the idea of the neighborhood tours. Six years ago, we also started selling the in-house products we make.”

Nyangoma is effusive in her praise for Grace, who is too shy to speak. She was the first basket-weaver that joined the center and is now working full-time with them, making the baskets at home, and earning about RWF300,000 ($330) a month. A widow, she has four children to feed. Yet, there is no where she would rather be.

“I prefer working here, in a group,” Grace opens up, “as when I am alone, I tend to think of my worries. I enjoy being a part of a community, and building it.”

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Economy

What’s Brewing In Tokyo?

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Japan, a tea-drinking nation, is one of South Africa’s biggest importers of rooibos tea. In 2018, a record high of 2,000 tonnes of the homegrown blend was shipped off to the land of the rising sun.


A tea room filled with reverence for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

But first, the facts. To understand tea-drinking in Japan, it is important to go through the following motions, starting with the communal practice known as chadō (the way of tea) that is older than 800 years, in which, in a hand-decorated cast iron bowl, green powder, known as matcha, is whisked to make a dark green tea to be offered to guests.

Tea was first brought to Japan from China in the seventh century for medicinal purposes, and was regarded as a commodity that was exclusively accessible to the noble and elite.

According to Japanese historical beliefs, Myōan Eisai, a Buddhist priest who introduced the school of Zen Buddhism to Japan, was one of the first to inculcate the culture of tea in Japan.

He wrote a book on the health benefits of drinking tea, as well as the cultivation and preparation of green tea.

By the thirteenth century, the tea drinking culture grew in popularity among warriors and the elite, and by the sixteenth century, tea had become a favorite for all social classes.

Tea schools opened and the art of making tea gradually evolved to more than just being a spiritual practice in Japan.

It became one of respect with shared peace and friendship.

The tea room is traditionally surrounded by a garden with a tranquil atmosphere, emphasized by dull flowers without strong scents, to avoid distraction.

A low entrance into the tea room suggests that guests are to bow as a gesture of respect for the ceremony.

Every movement, gesture and aesthetic, from the preparation to the enjoyment of the tea, is designed to express friendship and harmony.  Guests watch on as the host shares the moment and finally presents it to them, kneeling on cushions.

Once the bowl has circulated among the guests, it is handed back to the host.The tools are cleaned and the ceremony is closed.

The Red Bush

Over 14,000kms away, across the Indian Ocean, a South African enjoys a hot cup of ‘red tea.’

Its preparation may not be as dramatic as it is in Japan, but it evokes the same sense of calm and serenity. It’s simply made by adding tealeaves or a tea bag into a cup of boiling water, a few teaspoons of sugar and having “a date with time”, as Swaady Martin, the founder of Yswara, an African tea and teatime company, puts it.

Martin, who has been in the tea industry for seven years, with a focus on gourmet African teas, has tasted and sourced blends from Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda but the South African rooibos is her favorite.

“Rooibos is not a tea, it is a plant. I find it a miraculous and wonderous plant. The fact that it only grows in one region of South Africa, and that it has all these incredible properties, makes it a plant I love dearly. I drink rooibos almost every day,” she says. 

Located in the heart of Johannesburg’s central business district (CBD), Martin’s tea room, which is currently being refurbished, embodies what she calls a meditative appeal that coincides with the tranquil properties of tea.

Tea lovers step into a room filled with silence and walls done up in light pink hues representing a sunset in the desert. 

This is to encourage focus on the tea, as it represents the removal of  barriers between the different social classes.

“We have suffered in South Africa and also around the world, with so much exclusion, the one thing that was important for Yswara was to give inclusive luxury. For me, inclusiveness means being in a place where everyone could have access.

“Being in town (CBD) was just that expression of being in the midst of everything and everyone; and at the junction of what represents the new South Africa,” Martin says.

A South African Rooibos Council (SARC) industry fact sheet published in 2018 states that the country’s geographical areas provide the perfect environmental conditions for rooibos cultivation.

The plant can be found in the Cederberg and Sandveld regions of the Western Cape and the Bokkeveld area of the Northern Cape.

“The vital characteristics of this environment are the Mediterranean climate with a winter rainfall between 200mm and 450mm per year; deep, coarse and acidic sandy soils; and temperatures that can range from zero degrees Celsius in winter months, to up to forty-five degrees Celsius in summer,” the report says.

Due to the indigenous properties of the Rooibos bush, industry regulations stipulate that the term ‘rooibos’ be used responsibly.

“The terms ‘Rooibos’, ‘red bush’, ‘Rooibostee’, ‘Rooibos tea’, ‘rooitee’ and ‘Rooibosch’ may only be used when the dry product, infusion or extract is 100% pure rooibos. Furthermore, the notice stipulates that the above terms (referring to rooibos) can only be used when the product was grown in the geographic area as described in the application, i.e., the winter rainfall area of South Africa,” the SARC report states.

This uniquely-grown product is becoming  a big deal across the globe, and the tea-drinking nation, Japan, has fallen in love with the health benefits that the South African tea provides.

In 2016, rooibos exports increased to over 30 countries across the globe; with Germany, Netherlands, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States (US) being the biggest importers.

In 2018, one of the largest tea-drinking nations recorded over 2,000 tonnes that were shipped into the Japanese shores, making it the largest export since rooibos was first introduced to the Japanese 39 years ago.

For Martin Bergh, the Managing Director of Rooibos Limited and the Chairperson of the SARC, the tea has been up against competition in the Japanese tea market, which has over 26 different types of teas to consume, ranging from the traditional green tea varieties to Jasmine and Barley, or the sacred Mugicha.

“The general trend toward natural health and wellness products continue to exert a growing influence on purchasing patterns in the region and as more of Rooibos’ health benefits become known in the East, we anticipate the demand for the product to grow,” says Bergh.

Bergh points out that the Japanese are purists and therefore prefer to drink rooibos tea unflavored, without milk or sugar.

“In the past, rooibos was consumed more in summer for hydration, but has now become an all-year-round tea product consumed by all age groups. A market as big as Japan’s 126 million-strong tea-loving population, is always eager to experiment with new products.

“Local retailers like Peacock Coffee & Tea Traders have adapted to the experimental flavors to quench the insatiable thirst of the local and international market.”

Kelebogile Monyaysi, the manager at Peacock Coffee & Tea Traders in Rosebank, Johannesburg, attentively prepares a cup of tea when we visit.

The loose tea leaves are cautiously stirred in a tea pot and served at a small coffee table.  

One half of the store is dedicated to coffee and the other for tea.

The smell of freshly-brewed coffee overpowers the aromatic smell of tea.

Tea sets range from vintage English style ceramics to Japanese cast iron teapots.

A selection of rooibos tea blends with various flavored options, ranging from organic rooibos to creamy caramel, as well as herbal blends.

This includes a Nelson Mandela range.

The caffeine-free tea, according to Monyaysi, is popular in the Japanese markets because of its natural healing qualities.

Despite coffee being a popular beverage for sit-in customers, rooibos tea is the most sought after locally too.

“It (rooibos) is the center of attraction. This is a word that they (tourists) can grab and not forget, so when they walk in here, it is all they ask for,” she says.

It took some time for Monyaysi to be stirred by tea. 

“I was not much of a tea-drinker. I only started to enjoy tea when I began working here. Now, the first thing in the morning, I have to drink a cup of tea and in the evening, before I go to bed. It is a habit – if I don’t drink tea, I get a headache,” Monyaysi says, preferring the original rooibos blend.

Jessica Bonin, the founder of Lady Bonin’s Tea, a Cape Town-based company that sources, blends, packages and distributes full leaf teas, either loose or in biodegradable tea bags, offers more on the world’s fetish for rooibos.

Lady Bonins’ teas and herbals are sourced locally and internationally from farms that are organic without adding additives or products that harm the environment.

The rooibos is sourced by using a method known as “wild pickings” – the process of collecting the rooibos that grows naturally in the mountains. Due to the increase in demand for rooibos and rooibos products globally, commercial farmers have scaled production unsustainably, leaving environmental and societal damage in their wake.

Bonin says that in countries like Japan and Thailand, black tea is preferred, and it is predominantly used for the health benefits – making it a herbal infusion.

“They are buying it solely on the principle that it is a caffeine-free, non-tea beverage. People are buying it as an alternative and they are transfixed by its health properties.

“It is enabling people who naturally use plants as medicine for many years. In any Western country, you will need to justify the health benefits, but in the Asian countries, it is the medicine they are interested in. People are very healthy in Japan,” she says.

 Although Bonin is facing difficulties  entering the export market in Japan due to the high number of monopolies and conglomerates in the industry, small amounts of exports also go to Germany and the US.

Rooibos is a unique product that has infused the signature South African taste and its ambience with the rest of the world.

The Japanese may have their unique tea-drinking ceremonies and traditions but in Germany and the other countries that import the plant in millions, rooibos offers a cupful of experience that is incomparable and uniquely South African. 

Gypseenia Lion

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Brand Voice

Sanlam & NASASA Launch NASASA Financial Services For Stokvels

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Sanlam and the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (NASASA) have launched NASASA Financial Services (Pty) Ltd; a brokerage catering to the financial services needs of the South African stokvel market. NASASA is a self-regulatory organisation with a database of 125 000 stokvel groups, reaching about 2.5 million individuals. The new entity will foster greater financial inclusion for all members.


Jacqui Rickson, Chief Executive: Group Benefits at Sanlam Developing Markets Limited and Board member of NASASA Financial Services says, “For South African stokvels this is an opportunity to formalise their existence without having to forego their traditions. The peace-of-mind that each member of a stokvel will be protected in their time of need is invaluable.”

“Stokvels are powerful financial services providers in their own right,” says NASASA Financial Services CEO, Mizi Mtshali “and have the potential to help grow South Africa’s economy once they enter the more formalised sector through appropriate product offerings”. Currently, there are over 800 000 stokvels in the country, aggregating an estimated R50-billion pa. They are, however, quite exposed, especially to liquidity issues that may render them unable to discharge benefits to their members, as well as scams that promise to resolve such issues. This results from a lack of accessible, relevant products that meet the needs of a more informal savings sector. 

As a result, some burial stokvels may not pay enough to cover funeral expenses in their entirety. By offering broad-based financial services to members, NASASA Financial Services will empower stokvels through greater socio-economic inclusion and security.

Jacqui Rickson says, “This venture supports our client-centric focus by allowing financial inclusion to be extended to South Africans who are on the edge of the formalised insurance structures.  Through this, we can help families recover financially following difficult, unexpected events.”

NASASA Financial Services is currently licensed as a Juristic Representative of Sanlam Developing Markets, with a long-term plan to become a Financial Services Provider (FSP).  NASASA Financial Services will distribute tailor-made products nationally via its distribution force. Sanlam as underwriter, through NASASA Financial Services, will initially offer group-based funeral benefits, tailored to each individual type of stokvel.

Products are competitively priced and start at R15 per person. Once the stokvel has selected its option, the stokvel will pay one premium for the whole group. For burial stokvels, Sanlam has designed a full product, covering up to nine family members and all products have been created in partnership with NASASA.

Currently, the product offering includes:

  • A Principal Member Only Funeral Benefit
  • An Immediate Family Funeral Benefit
  • A Principal Member Plus Up To 9 Dependents Funeral Benefit
  • Grocery and Airtime Cash Benefits

NASASA is about educating their members about wealth and more appropriately, financial health, which includes saving on the expense of premiums through aggregation and paying group rates rather than more expensive individualised rates. We’ve designed products as an extension of this; as a tangible, affordable, non-intrusive offering that seamlessly blends the required formal structures with community-based traditional structures.

Mizi Mtshali, NASASA CEO, adds, “The research conducted during the build-up of our product launch saw the solution being entirely built by participating stovels. As a result, we deliver unmatched value by buiding a solution briefed in by our constituency. Amongst the majority of South Africans, funeral insurance fulfils an unmistakable need. While many are excluded from the formal financial system, those who do interface with the sector largely feel inadequately serviced. Burial Societies are formed as providers of such services and have developed systems around the real needs of their members. There are roughly 200 000 active Burial Societies in South Africa, with the majority being self-underwritten.

Because such groups rely on their collective savings to discharge their benefit to members, they often face liquidity problems that may lead to their disbandment. This brings about the need for an underwriter who will take on the risk on behalf of the group, as well as offer a set of products and services built around the group’s needs. NASASA is tasked by its members to solve this problem, and we have identified Sanlam as the most suitable partner in this regard.”

Mtshali says this venture will also facilitate job creation, which is key to socioeconomic inclusion, “For South Africans, this opportunity provides meaningful employment particularly in the township economy. Not only is this a step towards financial inclusion, but a giant leap towards societal transformation”

Down the line, NASASA Financial Services is aiming to extend its offering to include life cover as well as short-term products like household insurance and is investigating the potential of integrating other banking products.

Content provided by Sanlam

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