Fana Mhlangu describes the township of Alexandra as a small and crowded place and believes that those who live there, dream of living somewhere else.
He admits to hanging out with the wrong crowd at school, desperate to fit in, but his sights were set on living a better life.
“As a child I had big dreams and hoped that things would change for the better,” he says. I’m still living in Alex but I’m trusting God that one day will be my last and I will live somewhere else.”
Fana’s mother passed away when he was 14 years old and his grandmother raised him; he never had a relationship with his father.
He says he learnt from his grandmother to be disciplined with money.
“Even though she did not have a bank account, she would save money at home. She always had money hidden somewhere so we could get what we needed. I learnt from her that you don’t have to spend all your money when you get paid, it’s important to save for rainy days and let it last a bit longer,” he says.
“As a domestic worker she didn’t earn a lot but with the little she had she raised her grandchildren. Now we are all grown up and raising our own families.
“My view on money was that we needed it to solve all our problems and I was desperate to have it. I wanted to get out of the township and I thought money would make life better.”
Fana says when he completed high school he could not further his studies and remained at home for two years unemployed.
“I wanted to be a traffic cop because all you needed was a matric certificate and a driver’s license to join the police force. While I was waiting for a post, I learnt about Christ and got saved. I was introduced to an organisation called Scripture Union which gave me a sense of purpose. I was working with children in the township and learning life-skills,” he says.
It was through Scripture Union that he was introduced to youth ministry and he received a bursary to study in Cape Town.
“I studied at George Whitfield College and received licentiation in Christian children’s work and later received a BA degree in Theology from Potchefstroom University,” he says.
Fana says the differences between life in Alex and life in Cape Town were apparent and it motivated him to continue on his journey to fulfilling his dreams.
Today, Fana works as a Heartlines values and money facilitator and has been on several radio stations teaching others about the importance of having good money values. He’s spoken to listeners in Kimberley, Nelspruit and Johannesburg.
“A lot of the people I have spoken to spend recklessly, and fail to budget. We know what our needs are but we don’t take stock of where every penny is being spent. When I started working I was reckless but when I started working at Heartlines, there was an emphasis on having good personal values which influence your money values. I began to challenge my partner, friends and family members when we would meet and I would bring up the topic of money values.” he adds.
“In my circle of friends they believe they do not earn enough money to save and what they have is too small to make an effective change in their lives. I try to advise them when they say that they can barely afford to cover all their expenses,” he says.
“My children are growing up in Alex, just as I did and I’m trying to show them a different way of living. In the township, when children get money they want to buy chips and sweets and when someone comes to visit they give them money. My four year-old daughter doesn’t know what to do with the money she gets so I’ve taught her to keep it in a money box,” he says.
“I make sure that I provide my children with the sweets and chips they want so that I can show them there’s no need for them to spend their money unnecessarily, and instead it’s better to save. If they want money, I tell them to take what they need and not to spend all of it.”
Fana believes that in the township, many are feeling the pressure to appear as though they are succeeding and are being influenced by what they see in the media.
“Our society is in trouble, television adverts, social media and magazines tell us that we need material things to make us happy. I am grateful that I get an opportunity to engage with people and try to make them think differently about money,’ he says.
“I am grateful for the engagement sessions that we have as Heartlines, and the opportunity to speak to youth. When you talk to people they listen because they want to make positive changes in their lives however we are competing with popular culture, celebrities and the advertising industry which push for people to aspire to material gain. Things need to change, these platforms need to show people the importance of making better financial decisions and encourage people to give back to others.
People often decide which message is important to them and which message is not. That’s why it’s important to reach them through channels such as radio and television. We need to influence people while they are young because the first thing a young person wants to do when they finish school is to make money so they can buy material things,” he adds.
Fana says he always encourages people to save because it is a value that he lives by.
“I tell them that when you save you are preparing yourself for the future, saving is not money lost but will cover what you need in the future, especially on rainy days. Saving also helps you leave something behind for your children should you pass away. There is a lot of information out there to teach people how to make better money decisions but we need to drive home the message in an effective way so that people can start to change.”