Severe poverty exists for more than 10 million people in South Africa. Such experience is generational and affects most black people in townships and rural areas. Families are torn to pieces because of it, young men resolved to a life of crime while young women fall victim to the cycle as they bare the brunt of the effects of poverty.
Currently, South Africa is not thriving, its people are suffering.
There was a time when every black family believed that if they could have someone who was highly educated then that is the end to their poverty; however, that is not the case in the current setup. Instead, our education system produces poverty-stricken graduates who become the shame of the community.
A young man from Pretoria has gone through the experience also, where he had to juggle growing up poor while trying to attend school and hopefully change his family situation. Jay took the negative experience of poverty and pain and turned it around to be the drive for positive change in his community. At 29, Jay is serving breakfast to 300+ learners from poverty-stricken families. After hearing his interview on Metro-FM TouchDown with TBo Touch, Tag My School Magazine reached out to Jay to hear more.
Who is Jay?
Jay is Jacob Lebone Madisha, mostly known as Mr. Mayor, and was born and raised by a domestic worker and security guard in Atteridgeville, Pretoria. My parents divorced when I was 6 or 7 years old, so growing up was difficult because I had to move from one place to another, sometimes sleeping on an empty stomach. I’m turning 29 years old on May 7. I went to Dr. W. F. Nkomo High School, where I was the RCL President in 2013, and have worn numerous awards in high school from grade 8 to grade 12.
Growing up, I was an isolated child who was subjected to a lot of discrimination because of my poor background. I was passionate about soccer, but I have always loved to read and help people.
Well, I’m a hard worker, and I love putting myself in other people’s shoes.
Are you still studying?
I am a three-time dropout. I went to the University of Limpopo to study Computer Science in 2014, but I dropped out after 6 months due to a lot of financial, emotional, mental, and psychological challenges. I studied Accounting Science at Unisa in 2015, but I dropped out after the first semester when my parents couldn’t pay the other half of the intuition fee even though my neighbors paid half of the fee. Then, I studied Financial Management at Tshwane North in 2017, but I dropped out when we were approaching the final exams after receiving a call from Markham to be their acting assistant manager by the age of 23. I needed the money, so I dropped out because they wouldn’t allow me to work part-time. But then the good news is that I’ve enrolled again this year, and I’m studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Psychology.
Let’s dive more into your community development work: talk to us about the free breakfast for kids going to school, how did this concept come about?
The free breakfast program for unprivileged school children has been operational for the past 3 years. It started as an after-school program where we used to serve children lunch, but then I realized that most of the time I couldn’t concentrate in class because I was hungry at home and didn’t have anything to eat, and I realized that the reason I don’t have the confidence to express myself is that I don’t have a school uniform to wear. I couldn’t participate in class because I was having hunger pains and wondering where I was going to get my next meal.
We sell chicken feet, achaar, sweets, popcorn, and snacks and then use the profits to fund our projects. We feed more than 250 to 300 kids and still run out of resources before we cover all the kids. We do not have any funding or sponsorship at the moment.
It’s a huge challenge balancing studies with work because we hardly have free time, so I must make sure I don’t sleep so I can catch up. As much as it is hard, when you want something so badly, you either make excuses or find a way.
You do quite a lot in sport, talk to us about this sports project, who’s involved and what’s the aim?
If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s a fool. Children have different abilities and talents, and not all of them can be doctors and lawyers because some were born to be soccer stars and good singers, but the narrative has always been going to school, getting good grades, going to university, getting a job, then dying. After you die, you remember that you didn’t live at all. We are invested in youth empowerment and development. We held a substance abuse awareness tournament over the weekend to give all the frustrated kids and those who aren’t good at sports a platform to express themselves and play away from substance abuse because an idle mind is the devil’s playground.
For our sports adventure, we have collaborated with Atyln Shopping Center, Safari Investment RSA, Tshiamo’s Lounge, a brilliant role model, and hip-hop artist named Blow Lepara, Star Cleaner, and Spotless Corner.
Now I see that you always do women’s conferences for your community, how has been the response to this program? What’s the aim?
We have a toxic circle: we men believe women have hurt and changed us, and women also reiterate the same thing. We see even in our daily lives that there’s an imbalance in our gender roles and positions; we have a lot of partners killing women; most women are single parents; most women are unemployed; most women are subjected to abuse, so the aim is to break the barriers patriarchal and matriarchal concepts have created.
Many young people do not have the energy nor the vision for their community development, how did you manage to be unique?
What makes me unique is the ability to adjust from one struggle to another. I grew up poor; many people today don’t know me because, when I was young, they discriminated against me and chased me away while I was playing with their children. I used to envy the parents of other children because of poverty; it caused me a lot of pain and pushed my brother to do drugs. So I couldn’t bear the thought of another child growing up the way I did, or another person going through what I went through, because the pain I went through was permanent.
If there was a CEO reading this what would you say to him?
If you are looking to expand your impact on the unprivileged communities through corporate social responsibilities, you’ve found the perfect person for the job. To us, it’s not about the money; it’s about changing one life that will change another.
Talk to the young people reading this article…
To all the young people out there, hard work beats natural talent when natural talent is not working hard. It makes no difference if you are not from a wealthy family; a wealthy family must come from you. I stay in a shack, but many people who stay in mansions haven’t achieved half of the great things we’ve achieved, and that proves that it doesn’t matter where you are from, how you look, or what you ate last—it’s all about you, not how you start the race but how you finish it. You might be growing through a lot and thinking you’ll never make it, but always remember that just when the caterpillar thought it was over, God turned it into a butterfly.
What are your future goals and growth plans?
We plan to own a piece of land where we will construct our school, sports academy, and university, build our malls, create multiple employment opportunities, and eradicate poverty. As for our growth plans, we are very discreet and have learned the hard way that only our results will speak for us; those who are interested will be in contact with us, just as it is said: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, where can people get hold of you?
People can contact us at 067 633 9233, our Facebook page is Ponelopelo Community Development NPC, and our email address is PonelopeleCommunityDevelopment@Outlook.com.