the moment that changed my life
As these three women learnt, just one event can change the course of your future, often with unexpected results
Mbali Zondo, 30, is a PR account manager and lives in Northcliff. After watching her childhood home be repossessed by the bank, Mbali vowed to one day have her own property to call home.
My childhood home was a beautiful, four-bedroom house in Westville, KZN, where I lived with my parents and sister. I have many fond memories of that time, running around with a bunch of friends in the neighbourhood. Summer days were spent around our swimming pool, with extended family joining us for the holidays. My favourite place was my bedroom, where I would look forward to retreating after a long day at school.
But all that changed when I turned 14 and my parents got divorced. Suddenly it was just me, my sister and my mom – and we had to say goodbye to our house. The bond was in arrears, and because my mom couldn’t afford to make any of the monthly repayments, the bank ended up repossessing our home.
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Life became unpredictable after that. My mom, sister and I moved around quite a bit – some months we’d stay with family, or spend a few weeks with friends. When we could, we rented a place for six months at a time. But as soon as I settled in a new home, it was time to move again. I envied my friends who lived with both their parents in a house, and I wished I could invite them over to my home
‘After my childhood house was repossessed I was too scared to call anywhere “home” – but it motivated me to do things differently’
for a visit or sleepover. To my horror, at the end of each school term the teacher would call me aside to ask which home address should be on my report.
When I finished school in 2006, my mother found a job in Joburg and I started studying in Pretoria. But I still felt like a nomad. I’d commute between the two cities or sleep on a friend’s couch if I had an early lecture. It was tough having no real space of my own to study or relax, and it was on those early winter mornings in a taxi on my way to university that I vowed that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes with money my parents had made. I promised myself that I would be a lot smarter with my finances, so that by the time I was 30 I’d have a home of my own.
In 2012, while in my second job as a communications assistant and aged 24, I made the bold move to seek the help of a financial adviser. Up until then I’d asked family members for advice on how to save money but I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. My adviser helped me break my goals into short, medium and long term. My primary long-term goal was to be in a position to buy my first property – no easy feat considering I was so young and wasn’t earning a big salary. But twice a year we’d look at my finances and work out a plan to make it happen. It helped that I was still living with my mother, so I could scratch a few things off my monthly expenses list, like rent. I loved buying shoes and going out with my girlfriends, and to save money I had to seriously cut back on luxuries. I did keep some money aside, though, for when I needed the odd spoil. And my savings plan worked out: I was able to pay off my car before signing up for
another 18 months of studying.
What I Learnt
By the time I was 28 I’d finished my honours qualification and was earning a decent salary. In the four years since I had first met with my financial adviser, I had managed to save enough to put down a deposit on a property. After months of house hunting I bought my first home in May this year – a two-bedroom apartment in a gated community.
The day I moved in was the moment I finally felt I was home. I couldn’t wait to invite friends over for home- cooked meals – and to toast my big purchase with a glass of bubbly. I love that I can make it truly my own space and share it with the people I love.
Losing my childhood home and all the uncertainty that came with it was tough. But it taught me that being financiallysavvy is so important, and that change is inevitable – it’s how we react to it that determines how we pull through it.
I set myself a goal: to be a homeowner by the age of 30, and I did it
Jaci Jenkins, 47, is a community service doctor at Khayelitsha Hospital and lives with her husband Lee, 49, and daughters Keto, 16, Ruby, 14, and Piper, 12, in Muizenberg. After many years of working in IT , opening a book store and starting a bespoke jewellery business, Jaci decided to study medicine.
I grew up in Johannesburg dreaming of being in an exciting career like flying passengers across the world as a pilot, or doing something meaningful like caring for the sick as a nurse. When I reached the point in high school when I could choose my subjects, I decided not to take biology because I didn’t like the teacher
– a decision that haunted me for years. I really wanted to study medicine, but because of the childish decision I made in high school I felt I couldn’t. I settled to do a BCom degree and after graduating worked for an IT company in Australia where I met Lee, my husband. In the late 1990s we moved back to South Africa, got married and had our children. I stayed in IT because the salary was good. But I never jumped out of bed in the morning to go to work because I wanted to; it was a means to an end.
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Wanting to find more meaning from my job, I often revisited the idea of changing careers to medicine, but I’d quickly get jolted back to reality. I couldn’t leave my well-paid job to be a student again, never mind find time to attend lectures and do assignments, while still tending to my family. I put the idea on the back-burner but I still needed a change; I took on something that seemed less ‘impossible’ – I decided to fuel my inner entrepreneur. I opened a book shop in Melville with a friend, called Love Books, and I also started a jewellery business.
But I never really gave up on my dream of helping others. At 38, and not getting any younger, I woke up one morning and I knew that if I wanted to study medicine, I had to do it now. So in
2009 Lee and I sat down and discussed the possibilities of me actually going back to university. After lengthy discussions, weighing the pros and cons, we decided that I should follow my heart. The girls were seven, five and three at the time, and although it was
‘I started studying medicine at 38 – a dream I’d had since I was 18’
challenging we somehow managed. It helped that Lee worked flexible hours.
I knew that I’d have little time for anything else, so I sold my jewellery store and became a silent partner in Love Books. Lee and I took turns to do the school runs and I stayed up late every night to study. I often missed out on the kids’ school concerts, prize givings and family celebrations due to my study commitments. Weekends were usually filled with assignments and textbooks. There were definitely times when the pressure was too much and I often cried in my car while driving to classes, but giving up was never an option. We depleted our savings so I could fulfil my dream of becoming a doctor, and if I stopped it would mean that everything would have been for nothing. I also knew that I wouldn’t be happy in any other career except medicine.
What I Learnt
Through a lot of ups and downs, I managed to complete the six years of medical school. I’m in my ninth year of medicine and doing my community service at Khayelitsha Hospital. Being an older student was hard at first, but I discovered that there were lots of mature 18 year olds who had the same end-goal in mind. Lee and my three daughters all moved from Joburg to Cape Town earlier this year so we can still be together while I complete my community service. They’re proud of my achievement and show their support every day. I’ve realised – and I hope that I’ve taught my daughters this too – that you are never really trapped by the decisions you’ve made in the past. It’s never too late to make a change: all it takes is a bit of courage, and support from those around you, to find a new life path.
It was tough, but I never gave up on my dream of helping others
Ulpha Edries Arnold, 33, is a digital marketer and lives in Sybrand Park with husband Zunaid, 37, her daughter Amra, seven, mother Nariman and brother Imaad. When her first marriage ended Ulpha thought she’d never walk down the aisle again, but four years later that’s exactly what she did. I was first introduced to Zunaid at a wedding when I was just 15. His family was friendly with mine; he was 18 at the time and I thought he was really cute – plus I admired his dance moves! Although we both did little more than exchange interested glances, I felt that I’d met someone special. I saw him again at his mother’s funeral two years later but, again, we didn’t say much to each other. At 22, I got married and we had Amra, but two and a half years later got divorced, and although I dated from time to time, I didn’t give romantic relationships much thought. I committed myself to raising my daughter and making the most of my career.
Then in November 2016, an Instagram notification popped up on my phone – it was from Zunaid! Over the next few weeks we started chatting about life, Amra, his son, and what we’ve both been up to all these years. And he told me about his recent divorce. Tur ning Point
We quickly developed a friendship beyond
Instagram and he formed a bond with my daughter. One day Amra was sick and I had a big presentation at work, but Zunaid offered to take care of her and even took her to the doctor without me having to ask. That one act of kindness made me realise that he wasn’t like any of the other men I had dated. In early February 2017 he asked me to accompany him to his step-sister’s wedding later that month. While at the wedding, he casually suggested that maybe we should get married too! I thought that he was just being silly, but he did the traditional thing and asked my grandfather if he could marry me, and he received my family’s blessing. There was a part of me that thought I must be totally crazy for considering it – because we’d only been friends for three months by then.
‘Once we realised we were meant to be together there was no point in waiting – we married two days later’
At first when he proposed I thought he must be joking
What I Learnt
Both Zunaid and I love living in the moment so we didn’t see the point in waiting; we set our wedding date for the next Saturday – only two days away! I invited my family and friends to the wedding and, although they were surprised, they were thrilled for us. I bought a R500 outfit at a nearby mall and appointed my sister-in-law to do the decor, my cousin to do my make-up, and my mother, with the help of two friends, to transform my house for the low-key ceremony. On our wedding day, Zunaid made Amra feel like a princess and vowed to love and protect her as much as he would me.
I’ve learnt that life can work in strange ways, and that there’s no perfect timing when it comes to making important decisions about the future. I’d never have guessed that one day I’d find love again with my teenage crush.