His father was a wealthy traditional healer and as a child, he would receive anything his heart desired, but when his father died in a tragic car accident, the financial circumstances in his home changed drastically.
His mother, who was the second wife in a polygamous marriage with no educational qualifications or work experience, left him and his brother behind to be raised by their step-mom.
They lived in the township of Alexandra in Johannesburg and without the support of his mother and father, Heartlines Values and Money lead facilitator Jeff Cele had to find other means to fend for himself.
“In school, I had an urge to belong so I was roped in to join a group of boys who were funky and cool and we were always up to mischief,” he says. “I have a vivid memory of our principal announcing at the school’s assembly that I would be expelled and I knew I was in trouble.”
He was an impressionable young man and Jeff says his attitude towards money was shaped by the fact that he would follow a group of boys who worked for a well-known criminal.
“They shaped my attitude towards money. When I was with the guys, we’d go out and come back with money and I believed the wiser you are, the quicker you can get it,” he says.
But the gang leader was not convinced and saw potential in Jeff. He took it upon himself to pay all his school fees, buy groceries for his family, and became his mentor.
Coupled with that, Jeff took on work as a caddy at a golf club and packed trolleys at a local grocery store to make a quick buck.
“I managed to hustle enough money to build my step-mom a back room, but she protested that she didn’t like where the money was coming from,” he adds.
While he was hustling, Jeff joined Youth for Christ, an outreach missionary programme which upskilled young people, and committed to a one year bible study programme, which changed his life for the good.
“I was trying to find myself. In 1987 I made a decision to move out of home and rented a room until I got married,” he says. “I started seeing the importance of taking care of myself and my family which changed my attitude towards money, I decided to change my lifestyle.”
Jeff worked diligently at Youth for Christ and moved up the ranks. It was there that he met a team from Heartlines, where he now works as a facilitator. He was part of the recent five-week SABC vernacular radio series and shared his knowledge on values and money with isiZulu listeners on uKhozi FM.
“Elderly listeners were struggling to save and women often complained about being scammed. DJ Sgqemeza (who is the show host and a respected member of the community) was so moved by his callers that he took it upon himself to assist people off-air with advice to help them work through their challenges,” he says.
Jeff says people are suffering because they are hiding their struggles and live beyond their means to appear well-off.
“Materialism is a major challenge. The less people have, the more they want to show off, for example when one is invited to a wedding, funeral or tombstone unveiling, they buy new clothes, which is unnecessary,” he says. “For many, living in debt has become normal and they spend money on things they cannot afford.”
Speaking from his own experience, Jeff says poor money habits are learnt at a young age and it can be difficult to break the cycle as an adult.
“The Bible advises that we teach good principles to children so that they can apply them when they are older,” he says. “The average 50 year old in South Africa cannot retire and lives from hand to mouth because they were not taught financial planning,” he says.
Jeff says the cycle can be broken and he’s bringing good financial teachings into his own home.
“I teach my children to be grateful for what they receive because I know where I come from,” he says. “But more than anything, I’m teaching my children to save and live differently so that they can have a better future.”