The revival of Zunde raMambo in Zimbabwe

By Prof Edwin Kaseke [5]

Volunteering in Africa takes different forms, some of which are indigenous forms that predate colonial times. An example of indigenous volunteering emanates from Zimbabwe. A practice called Zunde raMambo has been revived in response to difficulties arising from food insecurity in that country.

Zunde raMambo is a traditional social security arrangement designed to address the contingency of drought or famine. This form of social security existed before the colonisation of Zimbabwe. Zunde raMambo is a local phrase which loosely translated means ‘the chief’s granary’ (Dhemba et al 2002) [6]. The chief as a traditional leader has to promote the welfare of his/her people, and Zunde raMambo is one medium through which this was realised. Traditional custom requires the chief in any given locality to designate land for growing food crops as protection against food insecurity in the community. This common land is referred to as the Zunde. Members of the community provide their labour on a voluntary basis even though they do not all necessarily benefit directly from the harvest. Members of the community take turns to participate in the entire production process from ploughing and sowing to weeding and harvesting. The harvest is stored in granaries at the chief’s homestead as food reserves, which will be distributed to the chief’s subjects only in the event of food shortages.

Although all members of the community could benefit from the food reserves, priority was given to older persons, widows, orphans and persons with disabilities. Traditionally, the food reserves from Zunde raMambo were also used to feed the chief’s soldiers, given their role in protecting the entire community. The community was thus motivated to provide their labour for Zunde raMambo voluntarily because they benefited from the security and protection provided by the soldiers.

This voluntary participation helps to sharpen the community’s sense of belonging and identity. Furthermore, it reinforces solidaristic relationships in the community. Thus, apart from its food security function, Zunde raMambo also has social and political functions. It is important to point out that during the colonial period, Zunde raMambo schemes disappeared following the establishment of new power structures by the colonial regime. The new power structures curtailed the powers and responsibilities of chiefs. Thus the state assumed the role played by Zunde raMambo, although in reality the state abdicated its responsibilities on racial grounds.

The revival of Zunde raMambo

In the mid 1990s, the government of Zimbabwe decided to promote the reestablishment of Zunde raMambo in response to traditional leaders' concerns about growing levels of malnutrition in rural areas. This problem has been exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic which has seen a shocking rise in the number of orphans and child-headed households. Orphans and child-headed households are closely associated with the problem of food insecurity. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has therefore necessitated the revival of Zunde raMambo.

A study on volunteering being undertaken in Zimbabwe by Kaseke and Dhemba has revealed that Zunde raMambo has been decentralised to the villages, and village heads have been given the responsibility to allocate land for cultivation by the community. This decentralisation is intended to make it easier to respond to the needs of orphans and other vulnerable children. The Southern African Human Rights Trust is one of the organisations working with communities promoting Zunde raMambo.

Zunde raMambo in the Murewa district, which is being assisted by the Southern Africa Human Rights Trust, has a leadership structure incorporating the village head as chairperson, a secretary and a treasurer chosen by the community. For the community, volunteering means giving up one’s time to work in the fields for the benefit of the less privileged members of the community. The community also takes a philosophical stance about volunteering: they do not consider themselves as volunteers but rather they consider the Zunde raMambo as helping them. They are thus helping themselves. For them, fulfilment comes from meeting the food requirements of orphans, widows and older persons in the community. They know that one day they will also be old and will thus rely on the community for support. They are also mindful of the fact that they may die leaving their children without care and support, and in this context participating in Zunde raMambo is akin to purchasing a pension annuity.


While Zunde raMambo is an appropriate community response to the problem of food insecurity, its effectiveness is being compromised by a shortage of land and the prohibitive costs of inputs. Furthermore, the harsh economic environment is making volunteering difficult as members struggle to meet their own basic needs. Despite this shortcoming, there is no doubt that Zunde raMambo is improving the welfare of orphans, other vulnerable children and older persons in Zimbabwe’s rural communities.

Invitation to the readers of VOSESA Focus

  • What does the example of Zunde raMambo tell us about the value of traditional forms of volunteering in times of hardship?
  • Are indigenous forms of volunteering like Zunde raMambo compatible with modern socio-economic and political systems?
  • Is there is a new role for the state in fostering indigenous forms of volunteering in a contemporary context?

If you have views on any of these questions, please feel free to email us at or fax your comments to +27 11 486 0275.

[5] Prof Edwin Kaseke is the Director of the School of Social Work at the University of Zimbabwe.
[6] Phemba, J; Gumbo, P. and Nymsara, J. (2002) 'Social Security in Zimbabwe' in Journal of Social Development in Africa, Vol 17 No 12.