Becoming a CA(SA): From Clearing CTA In The First Attempt to Articles in a Big 5 Firm in South Africa

  • Meet Chulu Mazibuko born and bred in the Eastern Cape – specifically East London and Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
  • Chulu studied for her undergraduate degree and Honours degree at Nelson Mandela University between 2015 and 2018. In this article, she shares everything from How she got an opportunity in a Big Accounting firm for her articles to How she got a Bursary. 
  • Here is her story.

Tracing Back Roots and Pursuing CA from SAICA

My childhood growing was quite good, I was privileged enough to be raised by both parents; in a comfortable home.

As a young child – I was never the bright student in the class; nor was I was the brightest amongst my friends – this caused me to have low self-esteem and doubt my capabilities quite a bit.

I got through this low self-esteem by sticking to what works for me. I can’t emphasize this enough! It’s imperative that you find the best method in which you will achieve your goals and never compare your path to anyone else’s.

Why Did I Decide to Pursue CA from SAICA? From a young age (I would say about 15/16) – I always knew that I wanted to be in Business. Whether it be starting my own business or working for a big company. I always saw myself in a corporate role; not in the courtroom nor in scrubs.

I just never knew how I would get there, what I needed to study and where I needed to work. That’s when my mom introduced me to the CA (SA) designation. My mom explained to me that CAs are professionals in the business/corporate sphere that are trained and equipped with highly sought-after skills.

She told me that with this designation, I could sit at the highest level of management, within Finance, in any company, in any industry. The first thing I did when I found out about CA was to do as much research as I possibly could. I visited so many websites that could help me in finding out more about the journey.

That’s when I knew that the role of becoming a Chartered Accountant was for me – and I’ve never looked back.

My Journey Studying to be a CA(SA)

Requirements to become a Chartered Accountant from SAICA:

  • To have a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting or equivalent
  • Honours Postgraduate qualification (CTA 1, CTA2)
  • 3 years articleship (this depends whether it is a part-time study or full time so it can vary from 3-5 years)
  • Give two written board exams (ITC and APC)

Once I knew I wanted to be a Chartered Accountant, I applied for the B.Com Accounting for Chartered Accountants at Nelson Mandela University.

I knew that overall varsity costs were extremely high and the courses that I had applied for were not the cheapest courses around town so I applied for a training contract and bursary from one of the Big 4 Accounting Firms. I also applied for the Thuthuka Bursary.

I was fortunate to get accepted for both, but could only choose one. I chose the Thuthuka Bursary as they offered a more ‘wholesome’ programme in that, they paid for:

  • Accommodation
  • Textbooks
  • Living and travel expenses
  • As well as additional private learning resources and mentorship programmes – this was over and above the tuition costs! – it was an offer that I couldn’t resist.

"How Can You Apply for Bursary?"

There are so many bursaries, scholarship, and financial assistance opportunities available in South Africa that can help cover the costs. However, with this said – tertiary education is extremely high (overall) – therefore to qualify for such financial assistance isn’t easy.

As mentioned above, I applied for a training contract and bursary from one of the Big 4 Accounting Firms. I also applied for the Thuthuka Bursary.

My mom knew about this bursary way before I did and she introduced me to it. I applied through the link from the SAICA and Thuthuka Facebook Page; applications are open annually (towards the beginning of the year).

The Thuthuka Bursary Fund is a bursary offered to South African students (Black and Colored) studying towards the CA(SA) degree. It’s run by SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants) and funded by various accounting training offices around the country.

SAICA gives successful candidates the opportunity to study the degree through any university; whilst funding their tuition, accommodation, textbooks, living and travel expenses as well as additional private learning resources and mentorship programmes.

"Tips to succeed in Honours."

I managed to finish my degree and CTA in record time (4 years); I have never failed a module, nor a semester. I’ve also never written a supplementary exam. I was never an A student but I think I could connect to those students who just want to get through university without failures.

After my undergrad, I started with my Honours (CTA). Since I had the Thuthuka Bursary I could only start my articles after passing CTA.

To be completely honest – Honours was a nightmare for me. I hated it. That’s 100% honesty.

There were days where I felt like giving up. It felt like I was putting in 200% effort, only to get a 45% result. It was so demotivating and tiring. Fortunately, I managed to clear CTA. I have a lot of tips that I could go on all day about getting through it but I think the most important are the following:

  1. Get a Routine and Stick to it – trust me it helps. I made sure that I stuck to a routine that was suitable for me, from the moment I woke up – to the moment I went to bed. My day was planned.
  2.  Make friends in Honours (if you haven’t already in undergrad). It helps when you guys are all going through the same thing and can work together. Make friends outside of Honours! Sometimes it’s nice to try and complain about something to someone who has no idea what you’re talking about!
  3. Have a study buddy. If you’re someone that struggles to study when no one is looking – get a study buddy. It helps if you have someone to hold you accountable when you can’t get up from your afternoon nap. I was always someone who could study alone in my room – but at times I would struggle to focus! So I got myself a study buddy.  
  4. Do not (I repeat: Do Not) get imposter syndrome. This is basically what happens when you’re not sure how to structure your study schedule and you try to do what the “clever” kids are doing. This is something that I learnt very quickly. I knew when my most productive study hours in a day were. Find your path and stick to it.
  5. “Work Smart. Not Hard”. – an oldie but a goldie. I’ll never forget what my grade 7 technology teacher once told us: “Don’t study something you already know!” (Shout out to you Mr. Botha!). And it’s difficult – yes, but trust me it works. Spend your time on Deferred Tax, not IAS2! (lol). Also, there’s literally no time in CTA!
  6. Learn to Move On. There will always be questions in the paper that you won’t understand; those questions are there to separate the average students and the Cum Laude students. These questions are however always a very small portion of the paper – 10% or less. I never focused on them but focused on the 90% of the paper that was doable.

Also Read

Overcoming Challenges and Qualifying as a CA from South Africa While Working Full Time

How Did I Find My Current Firm for Articleship?

Due to the fact that I was a Thuthuka Beneficiary – I couldn’t apply for a training contract until CTA. This was in actual fact a blessing in disguise else I could have signed a contract too early with a firm that I didn’t really know too well, in fear of not getting a contract in the future!

However; I wouldn’t suggest waiting until CTA to start applying for articles (I didn’t really have a choice) – I would start applying 3rd year already.

I decided to apply to a Big 4 Firm because of the opportunities that they offer. These are opportunities during articles – as well as post articles.

The industries in which you work for in the Big 4 are huge industries (like Mining and Construction, Manufacturing, Financial Services, etc. – which I felt would give me an added advantage when I entered the job market after articles.

"Tips to Find Good Firms In South Africa for Articleship"

1. Attend all the Vac Work Programme

I would highly suggest that one attends all the Vac Work Programmes offered by all the firms. Once I attended these – I could sift out which firms aren’t for me and which firms I would later apply to. These programmes really help in 2 ways:

  1. You’ll get to see if Audit is actually meant for you
  2. You’ll get to see the culture of the firm and whether or not it suits you and what you stand for.

2. Attend your University Accounting/Careers Fairs

  • Another huge tip is to attend your university Accounting/Careers Fairs – this is where you will most likely be able to meet other trainees and most importantly – HR managers.
  • These fairs give you the opportunity to mingle, have a coffee and a chat and help the recruitment agents put a face to a name. They will then recognize your application when it comes through their system (especially if you left a good impression!). This is a slight but very effective way to get your foot in the door.

3. Do your research before going into Audit

  • It is normally the default avenue; however – I urge everyone to explore the others (e.g. Commerce, Tax, National Treasury, and Financial Institutions).
  • Should you go into Audit – extend this research to the firm that best suits you. They’re all different!
  • I personally think the best way to extend your audit environment research is by attending the Vac Work Programmes; speaking to the Trainee Facilitators at such programs; as well as the HR managers. This will definitely give you an insight on what the culture is like.
  • The last thing you want to do is to sign a 3 year-commitment that you’re going to dread waking up in the morning.

My Learnings till date as an Article Assistant

  • The biggest thing that I’ve learnt during articles thus far is to ask as many questions as I possibly can. Even if I think it’s dumb.
  • Articles are a training programme for a reason. People that you work with know that you’re there to learn! It’s way better to ask a question and be able to move on with your task; rather than to sit and struggle and not be able to do anything (your time is precious! Seriously!)
  • Don’t shy away from audit because you’re not a fan of the subject. Trust me, I hated auditing in Varsity (I nearly failed CTA because of it ) – but it is so different in the real world. You get to see the insides of companies in various industries. This is a huge advantage if you are not sure which route to take after CTA; you’ll have an idea on which industry resonates with you by the time you finish the 3 year articles.
  • Last but not least – Have Fun during articles. You’ve just finished a daunting school career, you deserve to relax and to enjoy your time off!

Now It's Your Turn...

I have been lucky to receive a lot of guidance from my seniors and those around me.

If there is any way I could mentor or guide those pursuing CA(SA) happy to do so.

You can connect to me on LinkedIn at Chulu Mazibuko

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