Eighteen-year-old Juante van der Walt is a dreamer – but an ambitious one. And while life didn’t necessarily deal her a hand of privilege, she believes there is nothing she cannot achieve.
Van der Walt plans to rocket into space: in a decade’s time, she sees herself living on a smallholding or a farm, living her best life with a restaurant where she’d be able to create in the kitchen.
That’s her dream and she’s planning to nail it. But right now, she is a cashier at a fish and chips takeout on the East Rand.
Van der Walt spends 12 hours a day tending to customers which, she said, has become a great learning curve.
“I am learning so much about people, different personality types and of course, problem-solving, because customers can be difficult.”
But it’s paying her school fees, literally.
Van der Walt is paying for her education and plans to complete her high school diploma this year or next.
“My family has not had the means to fund the completion of my schooling,” she said, “and Covid did not help. We were completely without income.
“I had to go out and find a job to ensure that somehow, I can finish basic education and then start saving for a tertiary diploma or a degree.”
She is focused and does not mind putting in the hours to achieve her objectives.
“I believe in my dream,” Van der Walt says. Finding employment was not easy. It was one of the most challenging things I ever had to endure.
“Nobody wants to employ a young woman that has not completed, at the very least, her matric certificate. I appreciate the job as it’s giving me a leg-up in life that I so desperately needed.”
When the business is quiet, she busies herself with cleaning. It’s almost an obsession, she said, and her quest for tidiness extends to home, too.
“My partner and I live in a small cottage and I am compulsive about a clean home.”
Tidy home, tidy heart, is her philosophy.
And when she has a rare day off or free time, Van der Walt enjoys taking walks around the neighbourhood or visiting friends.
“We have all struggled to get work and while many of us have found something to do, several are still looking. Chill time is limited because if my friends aren’t putting in the hours, they’re knocking on doors to find a job.”
Van der Walt’s partner recently started a better-paying job as a bartender at a local watering hole. He previously worked for a logistics company as a driver.
It’s made a difference to their household income but after paying rent and expenses, little remains to spend on luxuries – if anything at all.
She says R10 000 a month is their budget and they budget carefully. Nothing will stop her from achieving her goals, but time to get things done and to implement plans is limited.
Also, access to transport can be a downer. She now relies on public transport and an occasionally borrowed car from her partner’s parents.
Most of the time, she walks where she needs to go.
“We are saving to buy an old, second-hand car,” she says.
Sometimes life presents a dichotomy.
“After a 12-hour shift there is not much time to study, to start working towards my end game or to look for opportunities.”
At times, she resigns herself to believing that opportunity will knock out of its own volition… and magic would arrive on her doorstep.
“I know life does not work like that, because you create your own success. But wishful thinking can sometimes be a consolation when the going gets tough.”
One day is not just one day: it’s someday soon. That’s her rule of thumb, Van der Walt says, and despite the problems that South Africa continues to face on all fronts, she reckons that there’s no place like home.
She does not plan to join the hordes of young people heading for safer, more opportune shores.
“I believe that there is still a lot of opportunity right here, it’s just dependent on yourself. You make your own good fortune and I plan to craft my own journey, successfully.”