Financial education for the poor punted

With most households in South Africa being low-income earners, it concerns 25-year-old Dr Phemelo Magau that there is no legislation that promotes adequate and appropriate financial education for such a large number of people in society.

So much so that Magau pursued it as a topic for his doctoral studies in mercantile law in 2020, which he completed in just two years.

“We don’t have one act that promotes financial education; it is done piecemeal through different types of legislation,” said the North-West University (NWU) graduate.

It is this lack of coordination in financial education, and the absence of a regulatory body to promote financial education, says Magau, that exposes low-income earners to financial exploitation and makes it difficult for this group to extract themselves from over-indebtedness.

“Even debt relief measures are not properly designed for low-income earners,” lamented Magau from Kuruman in Northern Cape.

So last year, when his family, university and supervisor Prof Howard Chitimira celebrated his doctoral graduation, Magau said he was also proud to contribute to research about an economic group that is very close to his heart.

“I come from a family of low-income earners. My research became more pragmatic because I could relate to it. Research should be contemporary and relevant,” he said.

Among his recommendations, which focus on law reform to set clear guidelines on how and who should promote financial education, Magau has also proposed his “financial education crisis model” to be used whenever there is a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The model is flexible … we need optimal use of technology to promote financial education … During lockdown, though there was restriction of movement, we still needed financial education. We need to use technology to reach people even in remote areas,” he said.

If you had told Magau in 2003 that he would be a doctor of mercantile law at 25, he would not have believed it.

When he started Grade 1 at Ratanang Primary School (now closed), he said the grade 1, 2 and 3 pupils were taught in the same class. “When it was time for the Grade 2s to have their lesson, the grades 1 and 3 would be told ‘sleep’,” he chuckled, “there was no inspiration to even think about becoming a doctor.”

He said that it was during his schooling that his teachers saw his potential and inspired him to give it his best. “I would not be where I am today without the support of my family and teachers” he said.

In 2015, Magau enrolled at the NWU for an LLB and finished top of his class in 2018. In 2019, he studied for his Master of Laws with Mercantile Law, which he completed in a year. In 2020, he enrolled for a Doctor of Laws with Mercantile Law and completed it last year.

“It takes a lot of hard work, commitment and consistent mentorship and supervision to achieve a doctoral degree in two years,” he said.

Magau, who was raised by his paternal grandparents Kiloeng and Gaorekwe Motlhabeni, said the role of supervision and mentorship is often overlooked.

“I could not have achieved this without the support of my supervisor [Chitimira] and the NWU who invested a lot of resources in me,” said Magau.

His parents Keobakile Magau and Thapelo Motlhabani, though they are low-income earners, supported his goal to spend three more years at varsity.

Magau is a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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