Meet Philani Maphanga a CA(SA) who went from extreme poverty to becoming a Partner at PwC, South Africa

  • My Name is Philani Maphanga, a proud Chartered Accountant and Partner at PwC, South Africa.
  • I grew up in a small village where my responsibilities included being a herd boy, milking cows, and farming.
  • When I was in grade 10, Mr. Desmond Msomi, the co-founder of Ngubane and Co., came to my school and told us about the scope of chartered accountancy. This changed everything for me… I wanted to be like him and started dreaming of becoming a CA.
  • Here is my story of how being committed to my goal, having a clear vision, and being persistent transformed my life.

Growing up poor and inspired to pursue CA at the age of 15

I am from eMshazi KwaNgcolosi, a tribal authority by Inanda Dam in South Africa. In short, I grew up in extreme poverty and life was not easy at all.

My father was unskilled and lost his job in 1987. Due to lack of funds, my mother had to work as a maid, after being a housewife for many years.

Nonetheless, my parents were trying their best to make ends meet when a tragedy struck our family in August 1989.

My mother went to buy groceries but never returned home alive as she was involved in a car accident and sadly passed away. This was the most heartbreaking experience for me as a young boy in grade 6.

Luckily, my extended family looked after my younger brother and me while my father was unemployed and mother deceased. I will always be grateful to them for their support.

Fast forward, in 1993, when I was in grade 10, Mr. Desmond Msomi, the co-founder of Ngubane and Co., visited my high school and gave a presentation on career opportunities. That day everything changed.

His tale of perseverance served to empower and motivate me not only to give my best in studies but also to become a 'Chartered Accountant'. (I also need to mention that math and accounting were my favorite subjects, so CA made sense!)

From that day on, I had made up my mind to, work 'extremely hard' towards my studies and become a CA… I finally found my career path.

Not able to register for university due to lack of funds

In 1995, when I was in grade 12, our maths teacher left the school at the end of term one, and we were without a teacher until the third term.

Unfortunately, the next teacher who joined our school did not teach higher grades. This did not matter to my classmates as I was the only one in my school doing higher grade maths to get admission in Bachelor of Accounting and go the CA route.

It became a huge obstacle and there seemed to be no way out, but I knew I could not give up.

Holding on to my big dreams, I decided to teach myself higher math. In those days, we did not have the Internet or the all-knowing ‘Google’, so it wasn’t easy.

I eventually managed to pull it off and qualified for a Bachelor of Accounting.

I was so excited to be a step closer to my dream of becoming a CA(SA). However, there came another challenge as I could not register at university due to financial difficulties.

This reality hit me hard. It was heartbreaking, but as always, there was no giving up.

Also Read

My Journey from a CA(SA) to becoming a Partner at a Big Accounting Firm in Australia

Good times: Starting university and getting shortlisted by PwC

Without any money to study further, I decided to work part-time and signed up for temporary jobs. I also received contributions from family members.

Fortunately, I received financial aid from NSFAS and they funded all my four years at university. Without NSFAS, I would not have achieved my career goals; I’m really grateful for the funding.

Finally, in 1997, I enrolled at the University of Durban – Westville.

My journey at university was not easy. There were days where I couldn’t afford a simple bus fare, so I had to walk a few miles to reach university. My extended family supported me throughout my studies, with money for textbooks, bus fare, groceries, and clothing.

During my second year at university, I was selected as one of the top 10 accounting students to attend a PwC youth leadership launch. Coming from a rural school with no basic amenities, I was fortunate to attend this seminar with students who studied at better schools.

I graduated in 2000 with a 100% record at university with not even one supplementary exam. This was a big achievement for me because despite all the challenges I faced, (including not having all prescribed textbooks) I still did well.

My dream of becoming a CA was starting to become a reality...but I knew I had a long way before I could be a CA.

Doing my honors and starting  articles

The next step on my CA(SA) pathway was a Post Graduate Diploma in Accounting (CTA). I did my CTA at UKZN (former UDW) in 2000 and joined PwC in April 2001 to start my articles.

I was excited to be a part of such a large firm however, I faced further challenges. The most difficult part was adapting to the corporate environment!  

I remember some of the trainees I started with left the firm towards the end of our first year. I almost joined them but remembered why I joined PwC.

There were times when I shed some tears, but giving up was not an option, so I persevered, worked hard, maintained a positive attitude, and fought for my dream.

Also Read

Behind the scenes of my 10 year long journey becoming a CA(SA) and of not giving up!

Finally, qualifying as a CA(SA) in 2004

My CA journey wasn’t a straight road. Working while attending lectures without a car (and no great public transport) was a major obstacle.

I passed the first Board exam, however, due to various reasons, I failed the second Board examination twice. Failing was a painful experience, and the reason I failed in my second attempt was that I had not recovered from my first failure.

Working with a group of friends while preparing for my third attempt at the Board exam was beneficial. We set up a strict timetable, and studied the whole day, followed by physical exercise. After our workouts, we would put in an extra three hours of learning in the evening.

Despite all the challenges, the dream I had of becoming a CA as a child from rural KZN kept me going...and I finally qualified as a CA(SA) in 2004. This was a big achievement for me and for so many other rural kids like me. 

Carving my career path and becoming a Partner at a Big 4 accounting firm 

When I started my articles at PwC, my initial plan was to leave the firm after completing my articles. However, I continued working at the firm.

Moving up the corporate ladder wasn’t easy and I had my share of ups and downs.

My strength was that I had a good understanding of my abilities and was fully aware that I will never know everything.

My progressive mindset helped me grow, I earned much respect.

In a few years, I decided to move to advisory to start a career in internal auditing. I found internal audit, risk management, and corporate governance fascinating and ended up staying longer at PwC and moving up the ranks to a managerial position.

I learned early in my managerial role not to be personal with people when managing them but focus on the task at hand.

I also treated everyone, including subordinates with respect and my most substantial strength is that I remain calm even under difficult circumstances.

After a few years, in September 2008, I resigned from PwC and joined Transnet Engineering, where I was a Corporate Governance Manager.

However, I missed the corporate environment at PwC, so in September 2011, I rejoined PwC as an Associate Director. It was when I returned to PwC that my ambition of partnership began.

I eventually worked my way up the ladder and was promoted to the partnership in February 2016. I am the Internal Audit Leader and Higher Education Industry Leader for PwC KZN.

Also Read

This CA from a semi-rural area in South Africa quit his well-paying job and built a thriving 250+ member practice: the story of Desmond Msomi


Questions I often get asked:

“How has education changed your life?”

My achievements have made my family, the people from my village, and my teachers extremely proud.

My life transformed for the better, and I became an active contributor to the economy of our country. The most significant achievement is inspiring young people from challenging backgrounds to believe in their capabilities amidst the obstacles they face.

"How does one apply for NSFAS?"

When I applied to university, I had to indicate on the form if I needed financial assistance.

At the time, we had to pay the registration fee and then apply for NSFAS. This was a loan that was converted to a 40% bursary provided you passed all courses. So after graduating, I had to repay 60% of my study fees. I was only funded for tuition, and my extended family assisted with bus fares and accommodation.

"What other funding options are available for CA students in South Africa?"

Many students from poor families have benefited from the Thuthuka bursary.

I always encourage those looking to pursue a CA qualification to ensure they obtain the grades required to be awarded this bursary.

Wrapping up…

When I look back, what helped me survive extreme challenges and lack of funds is my attitude of facing challenges head-on and putting effort into everything I do.

Your background, where you grew up, how poor your family is, and the challenges you face in life should NOT determine where you end up.

However, you must also note that nothing comes easy. Be willing to work hard and have the grit to face challenges.

Even today, I make time to visit schools and share my story in the hope that I will motivate young people and help them change their circumstances. I am also proud of those who have followed in my footsteps or diverted to other careers. I am glad I could share my knowledge and inspire them to chase their dreams too.

My advice to all reading this is Money should not be the only deciding factor in your career choice…everything is possible!

If you are in a better situation today, I would request each one of you to give back to society in whatever small way you can.

Philani Maphanga is an experienced Partner with a demonstrated history of working in the accounting industry. Skilled in Internal Audit, Enterprise Risk Management, Corporate Governance, and Managerial Finance. Strong entrepreneurship professional with a Bachelor of Accounting focused in Accounting and Auditing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. 

Now It's Your Turn...

What is stopping you from reaching your goals? Have questions for me? Comment below and Mr. Philani will reach out to you.

Looking for a job opportunity? Find everything you need at, alternatively, contact

Sign up for The Finance Story Fortnightly newsletter

Inspiration, Learnings, Knowledge in your in-box

Get stories delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter
By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use & Privacy Policy.
Learning Learning Partner Partner
Which Dell Technologies offerings do you wish to know more about?

Book 1:1 call with industry expert