Despite the township of Alexandra in Johannesburg being seen as a poor in comparison to its wealthy surroundings; the only visible form of enterprise being the spaza shops, hair salons and shebeens which compete for space with the shacks and houses that populate its narrow streets, it has birthed some of South Africa’s greatest songs, poetry and novels by those who see beyond the poverty line and appreciate the vibrancy and culture of its people.
Heartlines’ values and money facilitator Desmond Chauke was born in Alexandra and says he was no different from many other boys in the township –succumbing to peer pressure to portray the personality of a bad boy and constantly getting up to mischief.
“When I was in high school I wanted to fit in with the other boys. I was part of a group who wanted to come across as anti-establishment. We only attended the morning period and then we would go out into the streets and misbehave,” he says. “I enjoyed high school but I failed Grade 11 because I had a few drinks before my last two exams.”
However, some of his friends passed and he realised that the other boys were studying despite projecting a nonchalant attitude. He says it was a wake-up call for him to get his act together.
“I gained a mentor who is a pastor and when I converted to Christianity I started becoming disciplined. It was a turning point for me and I knew I wanted to finish school,” he says.
Desmond completed high school but his family did not have the financial means to further his education, instead he joined Youth for Christ which set his hopes and dreams beyond South Africa.
“YFC does mission work to reach young people and spread the message of Christ, hope and reconciliation through the arts, I participated in dance, drama and music which saw me travel to Spain and England. I was 19 years old and the experience changed my life for the better. After a year of travelling my confidence had grown but when I returned to South Africa, I was faced with the realities of unemployment and lack of money in my family to study further.”
Determined to better his life, Desmond took up a learnership at ABSA bank which helped him study Financial Banking Advice and he was moved to the bank’s head office.
Despite being a mischievous child, Desmond had developed the discipline of saving from a young age and when he worked at ABSA, he saved enough money to put himself through university. However, he dropped out in his final year when funds ran out and he had no one to assist him.
“I was studying Business Application, a stream in IT where you become a business analyst and help businesses develop infrastructure to migrate to a digital economy. It is still my goal to complete my degree,” he adds.
Today, Desmond works as part of the Heartlines team and was part of a five-week radio series on SABC where he shared his knowledge on values and money with listeners on Mamelodi FM in Sesotho and isiZulu.
One of the major challenges his listeners would raise during the radio show was debt.
“Many struggle to get out of debt and don’t know how to save. They are in debt for small things like clothing accounts, cell phone contracts and owing loan sharks. They take loans for everyday expenses such as buying food,” he says.
“I tell them to set up a budget so that they can see where their money is spent. It’s not that they don’t have money, they are misdirecting it and paying for things that they don’t need. I also advise them to set up a repayment plan to pay back all their lenders.”
Desmond says he understands what it means to be in debt.
“When I was doing my learnership, I opened a cheque account and spent R10 000 on my overdraft. I never thought of the consequences until I received a phone call that I would need to pay it back. It took me two years to complete the payments.”
He admits that a lot of the mistakes he’s made with money come from having a lack of understanding and poor role-modelling from a young age, an issue that he believes faces a lot of young people in Alex.
“Growing up, when the men in my family got paid, they would go to a club and spend all their money on alcohol. The following week the money would be finished,“ he says. “ The youth in Alex need someone to teach them about money. Even though schools teach Life Orientation, there is no financial education. They need to be taught that money affects every area of your life. Once you get it, you should spend it wisely. The number one challenge in Alex is that people work hard for their money but they have nothing to show for it because they misuse it.”
When Desmond left university, he joined a programme called Kasi Labs, an incubation for young people with viable business ideas to solve problems in the township. He believes entrepreneurship is a golden opportunity for young people to overcome poverty and unemployment.
As a mentor to young people in township schools, Desmond says he’s had to change the mind-set that it is government’s responsibility to look after the country’s youth.
“It’s important for young people to have self-leadership skills. Although as young people the financial challenges we face are inherent from our disadvantaged backgrounds, a lot of issues can be dealt with if one learns to lead oneself correctly,” he says.
Desmond speaks from experience because he used self-discipline to overcome the financial setbacks to improve his life and make better financial choices.
“Nothing is impossible, as long as you know which direction you want your life to take.”