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From couch surfing at UCT to working alongside David Beckham, Paballo Chauke shares his inspirational story

David Beckham and Paballo Chauke. PHOTO: Supplied

David Beckham and Paballo Chauke. PHOTO: Supplied

Published Jun 30, 2022


Durban - Paballo Chauke is a 31-year-old black queer man from the impoverished parts of Soshanguve, who remained hopeful through adversity and achieved his dreams.

He comes from a disadvantaged background and was raised by a single mother, Elsie Chauke, who worked as a domestic worker.

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As a spokesperson for the Zero Malaria Starts with me – Draw the Line Against Malaria campaign, Chauke has worked alongside David Beckham, and other prominent figures. However, the journey was not easy for the high achiever.

When he matriculated with stellar results in 2008, he was forced to take a gap year due to a lack of funding to pursue higher education.

Chauke says he felt defeated and depressed during this period of his life. But, he managed to get into UCT in 2010 to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in environmental and geographical science.

“I had already failed before writing any tests or exams; my mind was defeated. UCT was such an exclusionary as a space. My mental, bodily and spiritual exclusion crystallised into academic exclusion,” he says.

In January of 2011, he was academically excluded after writing and failing supplementary exams resulting in the cancellation of his financial aid and accommodation.

“I had no university, place to stay, or money to go back to Soshanguve. I stayed with a couple of people and slept on their floors and ate their food.”

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Despite the odds, Chauke graduated cum laude with a triple major from the UCT in 2013 and went on to do an Honours degree in 2014. He made history as one of the first black people to receive 10 class medals out of a possible 22 in his undergraduate degree.

Following his success at UCT, he went on to the University of Oxford to read for a Masters in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management.

“All these achievements came about after I was academically excluded from UCT in my first year. I learned the importance of resilience, community and having the audacity of hope,” he said.

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Chauke works as a training co-ordinator in the malaria space. He is also a writer, and public speaker. In 2018 he was named among Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans.

The academic said his biggest achievement was remaining hopeful and kind after all the struggles, trauma and pain he has faced.

“I still believe in myself and I remain hopeful that I will see goodness in the land of the living and I will find ways to make the world a better place, that even if I change someone’s life I would have done a lot.”

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His mother, who died of Covid-19, remains an inspiration. She was not formally educated but taught herself English and Afrikaans in order to make ends meet for her children.

“Mama was a magician, no matter the challenges or obstacles, she never gave up and made due. I am certain of my success because her blood runs in my veins – I can never lose. I am so grateful to have been raised by her,” Chauke said.

Here is Chauke’s advice for youth who may not be as confident in chasing their dreams:

Be bold, resilient and shameless

So many mediocre people are running the world because they were confident enough to think they could do it. Fight imposter syndrome with everything you have in you; humility is not always a virtue; do not downplay your achievements – become close friends with failure because whether you like it or not, you are going to fail on your way to success.

Never internalise failure

Whether you like it or not, you are going to fail, in different areas of your life, many times. Refuse to make failing or the fear thereof your identity. Even after failing, refuse to wear failure.

Acknowledge that you failed, crumble if you need to, share your experience with others, but you have to dust yourself off. Refuse to be associated with failure – even though there are lessons in failing, we are not meant to stay there.

Move! Some people have failed so much that they begin projecting their bitterness and insecurities onto you; refuse to accept that.

To succeed means you must be acquainted with failure and the negative feelings it brings, but always remember that you will make it. You will always rise, like a phoenix!

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