Aquelle, Nature’s Spring for Institutional Sustainability

In life, one rarely encounters philanthropic acts of humankind describable only with two words: outrageously impossible. If someone had told me that there is such a place, in this part of Africa, I would have said “No way!” Here is one man who has inspired a 50-year-old rural institution to effortlessly feed 1200 people, every day from January to December; transport 3 000 young conference delegates, from all over the country, accommodate and feed them twice per year for a full week. All for free.

As if that is not enough. It is at the same place with a residential drug rehabilitation centre for 400 adults, a primary school, a secondary school, a teachers’ college and an HIV/Aids care centre. I continue. The same centre boasts hundreds of acres of export quality avocados; state-of-the-art green houses for sweet pepper; high-tech irrigable lettuce fields supplied with equally high-tech processed liquid fertiliser.

I am not done, yet. I do not how water-bottling companies do it in Zimbabwe, but from where I am standing now, I can see a highly automated, robot-controlled bottling system that produces enough of 10 fruit flavoured drinks to supply the entire Southern Africa hinterland – complete with a matching fleet of 32-tonne delivery trucks. Let me not talk about the dairy project and its associated manufactured products.

What I know is that such corporate intensity for want of a better expression – could never be associated with a ‘simple’ missionary institution. At this level, one would think of people like Aliko Dangote, Patrice Moetsepe and Strive Masiyiwa, theirs being a ‘profit first-and-philanthropy-later’ model. That is fabulous too, but Mission KwaSizabantu is one-man’s dream that, I hear, came directly from God – ukusiza abantu – to help a community. I do not know what the ideal economics term is – perhaps the ‘coefficient of dependency’? – where the work of
an institution or corporation is responsible for the livelihood of a whole community and its entire family architecture.

What is my point today? For me, beyond these reverberating accolades lies a whiff of despair. Most Christian institutions in Zimbabwe are not corporatized, hence their over-reliance on ‘head office’ support and government subsidies. More often than not, they have to levy high tuition and boarding fees just enough to sustain their academic operations. Colleges like MSU, NUST, Solusi, UZ, Africa University and many others either have farms or are located on vast pieces of land that produce very little for self-sustenance. They burden their ‘head offices’ with nutritional and material demands that, if their respective ‘chancellors’ were to intelligently deploy their faculties, Zimbabwe could by now boast scores of Mission KwaSizabantus. I do not understand why any educational institution located on a large farm would have to purchase eggs, chicken, beef, vegetables and bottled water from external sources.

Perhaps the problem lies in colonialism. We Africans were cultured to be ‘deployed’. We overrate academic qualification at the expense of delivery. Our institutions are firmly glued to ideology and doctrine that they do not perceive life outside the confines of orthodox convention. A university college on or with a farm like Solusi, CUT, AU, UZ or MSU for that matter, given the so-called ‘expertise’ housed under its lecture rooms, should not be buying any foods items from a supermarket, instead be the cog of providing for local communities, albeit for a price.

Heads of institutions and vice-chancellors should run budgets that have surpluses, not provisions for subsidies.

Horticulture, poultry, ranching, water bottling, dairy – this is not rocket science. I grew up in Christian institutions with permanent ‘business manager’ posts, but I have no clue what business they have been managing. Such institutions deploy ‘beggar missions’ all over the world – like Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government – yet they are sitting on valuable natural endowments. Their ‘milestones of success’ are measured in pass rates and graduate numbers, rather than sustainability or propensity for community service. They are a burden to parents and guardians of students.

I am glad that I depart from this institution – Mission KwaSizabantu – thoroughly inspired. Not only that but with tacit permission from its managers to identify and invite 10 motivated young leaders of community-based Zimbabwean religious institutions and agricultural colleges to come experience the amazing model of self-sustenance, this coming year. For Reverend Erlo Stegen and his team, 1966 is a long way back but the future has never been brighter. Except one speck of evil that might contaminate this amazing story and cause irreversible damage – expropriation of property without compensation. I told conference delegates that when a deranged government is stuck on a course of political madness, there is no property too big for state-sponsored vandalism.

Zimbabwe and the world watched with horror as Robert Mugabe and his political vultures descended on high tech farms, some of them Bilateral Agreement properties, senselessly plundering all and sundry.

But then again the Mission KwaSizabantu tells me their confidence lies in what God has done for them this far. Most of their literature narrates the experience that local Zulu communities have had in transforming their spirituality to modern Christian religion. Moreover, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekizulu has already sounded the alarm bells that such properties as his Ingonyama Trust and Mission KwaSizabantu will be immunised from any predatory expropriation madness. It is a matter of time before we discover how ANC and EFF land-grabbing insanity encounters the wrath of a rural Zulu community.

For now, the sweet spring waters of Aquelle continue to flow and nourish a remote mission farm station that has transformed lives of millions of South Africans of all races and classes. I rest my case.

Source: Rejoice Ngwenya

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