Youth focus: Black women, our accountants of tomorrow

2013-06-16 14:00

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Mpho Mthimkulu left her home in the small Eastern Cape town of Matatiele for Johannesburg two years ago.

Then 19 years old, she wept as she travelled alone, leaving behind her gravely ill mother, to study accounting at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

She won a bursary thanks to the Thuthuka Bursary Fund, offered by the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica).

Her mother wouldn’t hear of her staying. And when she died of cancer later that year, Mpho worked to honour her memory.

“My books give me hope that one day everything will be better and that I will have a future my mum would have been proud of,” she said.

Mpho, now 21, is one of more than 1 200 students who received bursaries to study accounting at one of 11 universities.

Saica launched its fund in 2005 to change the demographic profile of the accounting profession, which is dominated by whites and, more generally, men. Of Saica’s bursary recipients, 54% are women, 86% are African and 14% are coloured.

The fund helps to develop students from rural schools who excel in mathematics but don’t have the money to study.

Mpho ultimately wants to fight corruption and work for the office of the Auditor-General.

Her day is typical of those on the programme who share the Sophiatown residence at the University of Johannesburg.

Rising at 7am, she dashes to class after a quick breakfast. Between lectures, she studies, prepares for another class or takes short “power naps” to “maximise” her study time.

She also has meetings with tutors to discuss test results, with coordinators to ensure her books are bought and fees are paid, with mentors who help her with her workload, with lecturers who answer her questions, with psychologists who help her cope, with coaches on the best way to study, and with her friends for occasional “girl talk”.

After lectures, there’s dinner and more studying – from 9pm.

She also helps out at the church’s soup kitchen and takes part in a blanket drive for orphans. But Mpho and her Thuthuka friends insist they are not nerds.

Saica general manager Yugen Gounden says the programme has produced 442 trainee accountants in five years, many now working in large firms.

Thuthuka’s project director, Nthato Selebi, says the face of accounting is changing, with “more young, black South Africans now qualified as CAs, with more still studying”.

At this year’s accounting board exams, 88% of Thuthuka students passed, ahead of the national average of 73%.

The formerly disadvantaged outperformed the formerly advantaged, said Selebi.

Mpho goes home every holiday.

“This is how I recharge and refresh. I am constantly reminded by experiences back home of why I am here, studying,” she said.

»To apply for the Thuthuka bursary, download application forms at For more information, email

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