Vision of unity, development drives Ncube to action

JOHANNESBURG - The baobab is not only a symbol of Africa, it is a symbol of life... as it is the tree of life - providing water, sustenance, shelter and shade for those that need it. Freeman Ncube uses this statement to explain his charity organisations recent change of name from to African Baobab Foundation.

Many people, especially those from the countrys western region of Matabeleland, already know about the charity organisation, which, for the past three years, has spearheaded a number of developmental programmes in the largely under-developed region.

Through its labours, books have been donated to under-funded schools in the region, charity dinners and fundraising galas have been held to source funds for a wide range of social projects, and Matabeleland has been marketed as having the best tourist resorts and business destinations in Zimbabwe.

Very few though know that it recently changed its name and focus to cover the whole of Zimbabwe. Even fewer would know anything about Freeman Ncube – the man whose ambition and love for his home region made it all happen.

Provide solutions

Instead of making enduring, and justified, accusations that President Robert Mugabes government has, during its 30 years in power, overlooked Matabeleland and stunted its growth, Ncube set out to provide solutions to the plethora of problems afflicting the region.

For poorly resourced schools, he soured books. For underprivileged children, he found sponsors and for stagnant projects, he opened negotiations with potential donors who would fund completion.

Chaired by Ncube since its formation in 2008, Matabeleland.coms main aim was to identify alternative ways of developing the region and cut its dependence upon the central government, whose neglect has become a cause for discontentment and translated into perennial hate for Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) regime.

While Ncubes diagnosis of the problem was one shared by most people in Matabeleland – that Mugabes government was responsible for the regions continuous lagging behind, his prognosis was that solutions to problems lie largely with people.

I realised that for Matabeleland to continue depending only on the efforts of the central government for development was nave, as it would only breed generations of people trapped in their own problems, said Ncube in an interview with The Zimbabwean.

Take charge

We needed to take charge of our problems so that we could come up with unified and coordinated solutions. It was high time the region tapped into the skills that the people there have built over the years – despite the many challenges they faced. That is where we came in.

Led by Ncube, the organisations idea came from examples of South Africa KwaZulu-Natal, California, New Zealand, London and Cape Town, where the wineries have been shared with the community.

Despite its regional name, Ncubes organisation embraced people from other regions who have settled in Matabeleland, or those who shared the same vision of seeing Zimbabwe develop as a whole, to form a strong business bond within the organisation.

The immediate plan was to bring self-sufficiency, with an immediate focus being on boosting tourism in such places like Victoria Falls, Hwange and Matopos national parks, and to attract investment and jobs to the region.

To push its agenda, the organisation soon opened offices in South Africa and Zimbabwe as well, which meant to coordinate its efforts and gather necessary data on projects that needed uplifting.

Make a difference

My focus was on Matabeleland first because it is my region of origin, whose problems I already knew, said Ncube.

I therefore, thought I would start a charity that would make a difference and build unity amongst us and help with the development of Matabeleland and then move on upwards going to Manicaland and then Mashonaland.

As he went on, Ncube realised that the problems that first afflicted Matabeleland had grown to become national problems, hence the recent change of name to focus on the whole of Zimbabwe.

We changed the name as we felt that did not involve the country. It had appeared as if we are one sided and secluding other provinces and tribes. The new name, African Baobab Foundation, embraces all Zimbabweans and Africans.

We also readjusted and made the first priority of the charity to help disabled children and the elderly in both the rural and urban areas, while at the same time continuing to source school fees for underprivileged children, said Ncube.

Children leaving

We also create awareness on children leaving our country for especially South Africa, where they continue to suffer, while also educating others about wildlife conservation as we need these animals to create revenues for us and for tourism purposes.

Ncube admitted that some discontented people from Matabeleland, who had become accustomed to the original name and embraced the organisation as their own, did not like its renaming and refocusing.

We knew from the start that we could not please everybody, but I still hope that people will not take in a bad way – but as a way of fostering national unity, he explained.

We have not changed our vision and mission to help Zimbabweans and we will always remember that charity begins at home, although we have to help everywhere in the country.

I would personally like to see African Baobab Foundation become one or the biggest donor organisations in the world, where we can have our own big home-based organisations doing great work for our people and African brothers and sisters, especially in Zimbabwe. My dream is to also see Zimbabweans of all cultures and tribes united as one.

Ray of sunshine

Ncube recently launched an annual gala dinner dubbed the Ray of Sunshine Fundraising Gala Dinner, from which proceeds will sponsor three chosen charities in Zimbabwe.

We will involve Zimbabwean and international celebrities to support our cause and raise these funds. This year we will be fundraising for Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage, which is doing some good work in teaching disadvantaged children about wildlife and its importance to people.

Ncubes passion is to help people and feel good about it, while his vision and unwavering desire to foster development will always drive his organisation.

My vision is to see Bulawayo airport turned into an international airport and to see Zimbabwe prosper and become the bread basket of Africa again, he added.

We also have Sibantubanye and King George VI centres for the mentally ill and disabled kids, as well as a primary school in the farms that is desperately in need of a lot of things and help with school fees, school uniforms and books. These are all in our plans and we are busy raising funds for them.

Born at Bulawayos Mpilo hospital, Ncube grew up in a farming community in Bubi District, Matabeleland North and attended various schools in Bulawayo for his education.

My family was very poor and did not have a lot of things and property that our neighbours had. My mother worked for the Bulawayo City Council, where she was an adult literacy teacher, before she went to work with women on different projects in the womens clubs in the city.

After completing his Ordinary level studies, he trained as a fitter and turner in Bulawayo, where after qualifying as a journeyman, he worked for a company in Belmont.

He travelled to the UK in 2002. He worked at Coventry Refugee Centre as a case worker before he moved to London to work for a private school in the sports department and later with disabled people.

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