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From rural Matatiele to one of the youngest CAs at 23

Prof Lungile Ntsalaze, from Unisa’s Department Financial Intelligence, qualified as one of the youngest chartered accountants in the country at the age of 23.

In 2008, Prof Lungile Ntsalaze, from Unisa’s Department Financial Intelligence, qualified as one of the youngest chartered accountants in the country at the age of 23. Whist this is a huge feat, Ntsalaze shared that getting to this point came with many challenges along the way. This is his story.

When he joined Unisa, Ntsalaze was told that he was the first black professor who is a chartered accountant to be appointed in the College of Accounting Sciences. “Today I am told that I am the second South African to successfully complete a PhD in Development Finance from the University of Stellenbosch, the first person was a white male. I am also told that out of the only two black South African chartered accountants that have PhDs, I am the only one who is a professor. But this does not make me different from any other young person especially those that come from rural areas, in fact I did not always get the top marks in class,” he explained.

His academic life started off in 1989 when Ntsalaze enrolled for grade 1. “The only entry requirement at the time was that one’s hand must reach the ear on the other side of the head. By the end of the year I delivered the good news to my grandmother that I had passed well. Her response was that such is impossible as I could not have passed grade 1. To justify her response she cited a number of things that included the fact that I forgot many of the things that she sent/asked me to do: I didn’t clean after myself after bathing, I would leave bath water unattended and I would sometimes wet my blankets at night. In essence I was not matured and developed enough to do grade 2. In grade 4 I had my first teaching experience, a grade 3 class teacher asked me to do English readings with her students and maintain order in the class while she attended a staff meeting and that went very well. So being at Unisa is a kind of revival of the love to teach that was nurtured back then,” explained Ntsalaze.

His family circumstances were not the best. Ntsalaze grew up in the rural village of eMoyeni KwaNyaniso in Matatiele. “As a single parent, my mother had to leave home to find work while my grandmother was raising us up in a household with five grandsons of the same age group. I recall quite a number of activities that were part of my upbringing. As young boys we slept together on an African grass mat which was also used for sitting and ceremonial purposes. Some of the food that we looked forward to was sour porridge mixed with pap or pap mixed with rendered pork fat,” he said. Besides this Ntsalaze said that  his childhood was never dull and there were always chances to play, catching wild rats and birds using traps or slingshots, and essentially recreating the world out of clay.

In the midst of all these activities school remained a core component for Ntsalaze. He matriculated from Lehana Senior Secondary School in Mount Fletcher. “I owe my academic inspiration to many teachers that have changed my life, in particular Mr Makhabane, my then Mathematics teacher and also the principal at Lehana. He is my role model teacher, as an academic I live from that inspiration he deposited in my spirit 16 years ago. I didn’t grow up exactly sure which career I wanted to pursue.”

His family circumstances were not the best. Ntsalaze grew up in the rural village of eMoyeni KwaNyaniso in Matatiele. Today he stands tall and proud, happy to share his journey with the Unisa community.

Without a slightest idea of what a chartered accountant was, Ntsalaze’s career choice was influenced when he attended a  South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) development camp in July 2001, the year of his matriculation. At the time, getting an award for being the top Mathematics higher-grade student was a defining moment for him in a group of about 350 other students from across the province of the Eastern Cape. Thereafter Lwando Bantom from SAICA kept in touch with him. “His passion and care ignited confidence in myself to pursue the accountancy career even though there was some fear since I had not done any of the commerce subjects at school but it was as if he had seen in me what I was still to become. He has been very instrumental in all my higher education pursuits since he recruited me from my village into becoming a chartered accountant,” shared Ntsalaze.

Having achieved great things at a young age, Ntsalaze believes it’s not been possible without the help and support of a number of people. “I must thank Unisa, Professor Elmarie Sadler and the College of Accounting Sciences for the generous time and resources that I have been granted to complete my PhD work under AQIP. Professor Sadler has been a wonderful mentor since I joined the university. Funding from BankSeta is also gratefully acknowledged. My profound gratitude goes to my wife, friends and family for all the support,” he said with a smile.

His PhD work was inspired by the reported prevalence of household indebtedness South Africa and across the world. The main findings were that there is a threshold below which indebtedness is associated with improved household welfare. Multidimensional poverty was also found to be under-reported when over-indebtedness and unemployment were disregarded. So the research culminated into the development of a framework to calculate multidimensional poverty for South Africa based on the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index. The work has been published in reputable journals including in an A-rated journal.

Ntsalaze believes that his family circumstances and background are not significantly different from many of our youth that hails from similar humble beginnings. “For instance, my first encounter with a lift was at university and because I was not familiar with it I ended up going up and down the lift. I couldn’t ask for assistance because my English was very poor and I feared embarrassing myself.  However, what makes us different, I believe, are the decisions and actions that we undertake. At a young age I learnt not to be late at school.  We looked after cattle and regularly had to take them to a distant common dipping tank before going to school. The facility was servicing more than five villages for ticks and diseases. One was sure to be late at school if they didn’t wake up around 4am to stand in the queue, and that was never an excuse for being late at school as we would get disciplined regardless,” he explained.

Two things that stand out in his journey are preparing for unknown opportunities and having courage. “Enrolling for accountancy at university with no background of commerce in high school was a huge risk I undertook. I could have easily been discouraged by poor academic performance in the early days of my first year and possibly end up losing hope for any success. I was very lucky to meet a friend, Sandiso Ntsomi, who was always willing to help, especially with accounting—I am certain that he didn’t have much or anything to gain from this as he had passed his matric very well but he helped me with patience.”

*By Kirosha Naicker