Azile defies the odds

The caller on the line informed Azile she had been accepted as a Thuthuka bursary candidate, and would be able to study at the University of Pretoria; …

When 16 year old, Azile Nkabinde applied to the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Thuthuka Bursary Fund, she never dreamed she would get a bursary – let alone become the first Thuthuka student to achieve a Top 10 spot in the Initial Test of Competence (ITC) examination, the first of two Qualifying Examinations university graduates must pass to become a Chartered Accountant [CA(SA)]. Today, she is breaking boundaries and proving that no matter where you start, any dream is possible with hard work and determination.

South Africa deals with many challenges, most significant among them are the challenges of poverty and unemployment. While there are a number of factors that conspire to keep people in poverty (including the place where you are born and the family which you are born into), this young, aspiring chartered accountant is proving that all this can change if you are given the resources and the requisite mentoring that you need to pursue your dreams.

Azile’s love for accounting started when she attended a SAICA Maths Development Camp at Durban’s Adams College in June of her Grade 11 year. Up until this point, she had wanted to be an engineer. But, after listening to stories from real life CAs(SA) about what their job entailed, she knew she wanted to become a CA(SA). ‘Besides,’ says Azile, ‘my mom always used to say you don’t look like an engineer – you look like an accountant.’

It was also at this camp that Azile came across the Thuthuka Bursary Fund.

During her final year at Ferrum High School in Newcastle, Azile knew there was no way her family could afford to send her to university. In fact, says Azile, at the time of her final matric exams her mother, a clerk at Newcastle Hospital, had managed to save enough for university registration but not the first year of tuition.

Her only hope was to be accepted as a recipient of one of the bursaries she had applied for.

Then she received the call that changed her life

The caller on the line informed Azile that she had been accepted as a Thuthuka Bursary candidate and would be able to study at the University of Pretoria. Azile’s dream of becoming a Chartered Accountant was coming true.

Five years later, Azile is on track to achieving her goal

Sitting behind a desk at the University of Pretoria’s Economic and Management Sciences Building, where Azile currently mentors other Thuthuka students as an Academic Trainee, you would never suspect that this confident, successful young lady had once been a shy girl with no idea how she would become a CA(SA).

Because, as Azile explains, ‘the CA(SA) journey is not an easy one.’

It takes a minimum of seven years to qualify. First, there is university – which comprises of a three-year undergraduate degree and a one-year postgraduate degree (Certificate in the Theory of Accounting or CTA). After graduating, aspiring CAs(SA) must then pass the ITC exam; complete a 36-month training contract and the professional programme; and pass the Assessment of Professional Competence final qualifying examination to realise their dream of qualifying as a CA(SA).

When asked if she ever felt like giving up, Azile bends her head and smiles ‘Yes, in CTA. You wake up in the morning thinking to yourself “but I have a degree, I could get a job”, “the work is so hard”, “I’m mentally stretched to my limits, I really could stop”. And while some days were bad, I kept motivating myself to carry on.’

Yet, she says, her willpower, the support from her ‘Thuthuka family’, plus the constant motivation of her mentors, really helped her stay on track to finish her CTA. Azile fondly recalls the words her mentor, Gottfried Rautenbach, used to motivate her: ‘Don’t be afraid to have BIG goals. If you don’t get to them, no one is going to know, but if you do achieve them everyone knows and it is good.’

These words kept her going and, in November 2015, Azile came second in her CTA class.

Today, Azile finds herself among the Top 10 ITC candidates in the country

‘We couldn’t be prouder of Azile. Achieving the number four spot in the latest ITC exam has made her the first Thuthuka Bursary Fund (TBF) student to ever make it into the Top 10,’ exclaims Chantyl Mulder, SAICA’s Senior Executive for Nation Building. ‘But she didn’t stop there. She also achieved more than 75% in the examination, which means she passed with Honours. This is an exceptional result for Azile and for SAICA’s TBF programme.’

‘For the past 14 years, Thuthuka has embarked on numerous initiatives to build and accelerate the pipeline of African and Coloured chartered accountants who are significantly under-represented in the profession. From a base of a mere 322 African and 222 Coloured CAs(SA) in 2002, these initiatives have helped take these numbers to 3 951 African and 1 351 Coloured CAs(SA) today. Now, with Azil’s phenomenal results, the impact these projects are having on transforming the profession is becoming increasingly evident,’ explains Mulder. ‘With so much achieved in such a short time, we cannot wait to see what happens next.’

Neither can Sonnette Smith, the Thuthuka Programme Manager at the University of Pretoria: ‘I started Thuthuka at this university about ten years ago and I’m just about to hand it over to someone else. Having Azile come in the Top 10 is the perfect way to leave the programme. She’s been a stunning student all the way along – so hard working. I’m so happy.’

In the meantime, while Azile applies herself to successfully completing the final requirements of the CA(SA) qualification process, she has the following to say to other aspiring CAs(SA): ‘Don’t be afraid to chase your goals and your dreams. The moment you set goals for yourself, you can start developing plans to achieve them. It’s been a great journey for me. It’s a great career path that you can do anything with.’

To the donors who help fund Thuthuka’s bursaries, Azile adds these heartfelt words. ‘Thank you for doing such an important job and investing in us as students.’