This young boy from a rural village, defied the odds to qualify as a CA(SA), and now positively impacting society

  • Hi, my name is Cyril Madiba. I am a qualified CA(SA) and hold a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting Undergraduate and Honours Degrees from the University of KwaZuluNatal-Natal, Durban.
  • My family scraped to make ends meet, and I knew becoming a Chartered Accountant would definitely help me change this situation. 
  • My mission is to positively impact society such that the lives of others are improved.
  • Here is my story.

Decided to become a Chartered Accountant at 15

I'm originally from KwaZulu-Natal and grew up in the villages of Samungu (Eshowe), KwaMachi (Harding) and Durban's KwaMashu township.

I did my high schooling at the KwaMashu township where I lived with my mother and her siblings in a two-bedroom house.

That meant studying at home was a massive challenge and as a result, I would stay at school once the home bell rang so I could study.

(My family scraped to make ends meet, and my dream was to change that situation.)

One day while walking around the school campus during a break, I came across a pamphlet on the floor.

Due to my curious mindset, I picked up the paper to find that it was a South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) document about the CA(SA) profession.

As I read more, I become interested in getting additional details.

I did some research and found that the CA(SA) is a prestigious profession with the skill being in high shortage in the market.

For me, that was key because it meant a high chance of employment and income potential.

(South Africa has a high unemployment rate so if you're able to obtain a qualification that increases your chances of employment, that is an advantage.)

As I did further research, I learned that the CA skills enable one to launch a career even outside the traditional finance aspects. So at the young age of 15, I decided to become a CA.

(I always say that I was destined to become a Chartered Accountant, based on how I got introduced to the profession.)

Convincing my parents of the CA(SA) dream

My parents never reached grade 12. They had to drop out of school to look for work opportunities and help support the family through a tough financial situation.

Explaining to them about my career choice was not easy because they did not know what was 'CA'.

To add, they had a bit of an issue wrapping their heads around the fact that it would take 7 years to be one.

So, the first challenge I faced was convincing my parents that CA is the career I wanted to pursue. But I had the vision in my head and that is all that mattered.

Eventually, I was able to get them over the line!

Also Read

Meet this CA who went from extreme poverty to becoming a Partner at PwC, South Africa

Challenges in securing funding for my university studies

My parents demanded nothing but excellence from me and hence I was usually within the top three students in my class.

So, qualifying for acceptance into university to study towards becoming a CA wasn't a major issue.

My biggest challenge was 'funding my University studies'. (University is very expensive in South Africa!)

The jobs my parents held produced enough income to sustain us on a day to day basis but not sufficient to fund my further studies.

I knew that my chances of achieving the CA dream rested on 'getting funding support or bursary'. 

In Grade 11, I began applying to every organisation I could find, that funded accounting students.

Luckily around the same time, representatives from that EMS programme had come to our school in the township to look for top-performing students.

(At the University of KwaZuluNatal-Natal (UKZN), there was an Enriched Management Studies (EMS) programme that linked up students in need of funding with organisations that were capable of providing the funds.)

After an interview process, I was one of four students they shortlisted and was given an opportunity to be interviewed by the organisations in Johannesburg. 

I was so excited, however, there was one key problem - the travel cost to Johannesburg was to be borne by me!  

My parents didn't have the funds at the time but they scrambled and managed to borrow cash so I could take a taxi from Durban to Johannesburg. This was in Nov 2004. (It was a 6-hour long taxi ride!)

After the long taxi ride and the overhead costs, the two organisations that I interviewed decided 'not to support me'. 

To make matters worse, I got home to find rejection letters from the other organisations I had applied to on my own.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement...and for the first time, my dream of becoming a CA was in doubt.

What next?

Finally, securing a Bursary

In the midst of all the rejections, the EMS programme director asked me to fax through my final grade 12 marks once they were available. That became a major lifeline.

On the results day, I did exactly that. Then I waited what seemed like an eternity.

Fortunately, towards mid-January, I received a call to report to the EMS offices at UKZN.

Upon my arrival, I learnt that the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET) has decided to fund my studies.

I clearly remember that day 14 January 2005. It was like an out of body experience, I was in disbelief.

The CA dream was well and truly back on track.

The CRET bursary was more than I could've wished for. All I wanted was funding for my studies, but they gave me more than that.

The bursary came with holistic support including vacation work, skills development and mental wellness programmes amongst others.

It's true when they say "rejection is redirection".

Also Read

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

My CA(SA) journey and building mental toughness

Once I got a bursary, I was well on my way to becoming a CA.

Needless to say, I did face a lot of challenges that helped to create mental toughness.

I clearly remember when at university, due to my background, I had students who would tell me that 'I wouldn't make it'. 

My first two years at University were relatively manageable.

The third-year brought about challenges particularly regarding adjusting to the advanced level of the programme.

Thankfully, I had access to some senior students who were willing to spend their time and show me the ropes. I was back on the path.

The honours year though, also referred to as Certificate of Theory in Accounting (CTA), took it up another notch.

At the beginning of my CTA, I had signed an articles contract with PwC's Johannesburg office for the following year.

The first year of articles was a particularly challenging one because I hadn't been prepared for a workplace environment. I lacked a set of social skills which are critical for one to operate effectively in such a setting.

Needless to say, I learnt a number of lessons during that year that helped me grow.

The CTA year was another challenging one. I lost a tremendous amount of weight and the stress was really getting to me.

Thanks to guidance from more experienced individuals and deliberate changes to my study technique, I refocused and was able to obtain the marks that gave me entrance into the first board exam, now referred to as the Initial Test of Competence (ITC).

Access to more experienced individuals in an unofficial mentoring capacity provided additional assistance. The rest of articles went well such that PwC promoted me to Assistant Manager at the end of my contract.

By now, I had my study technique locked down so I didn't experience the challenges from the university.

In between, I wrote and passed both board exams in the first attempt. In December 2011, I completed my articles having had all my competencies signed off. I was eligible to register as a CA, which duly happened in 2012. The dream had been achieved.

Sadly, a year after I registered as a CA, my mother passed away but I know that she's proud of my achievements.

Forging my career path

At the beginning of my career, I didn't really have a plan in mind. I was set on getting experience and learning as much as I could.

I started off at PwC as an Assistant Manager in Auditing.

During my audits, I'd be very curious about how the numbers were compiled, the products involved and business performance.

After about a year, I realised that I want to be a part of that process as opposed to auditing the numbers that led to my decision to pursue a career outside of auditing.

When I was at PwC, my auditing clients were in the Banking and Financial Services industry. Therefore, when I left the organisation, I naturally gravitated towards organizations in that industry and I've been in the industry ever since.

The skills I learned from auditing assisted in settling well and I continue to use them to this day.

I currently work within Absa Group's Financial Control unit as a Senior Finance Specialist with a specific focus on the Retail and Business Banking division.

Giving back to society

Over the past few years, I've become more deliberate about my career moves.

I have a passion for youth development hence my involvement in a number of additional initiatives.

I am the chairperson of the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET) Advisory Board. CRET assists students from disadvantaged backgrounds with funding for tertiary studies and provides holistic support.

I'm founder and CEO of The Growth Switch, an organisation which assists students and young professionals with academic, career and professional development through online videos as well as one on one coaching/mentoring sessions.

I am also a part of the Mentoring Programme at the Endunamoo School of Accounting where I mentor aspiring Chartered Accountants during their CTA and ITC studies.

All the above initiatives are to impart my knowledge and experiences to enable the youth to learn the critical soft skills I had to learn the hard way.

Wrapping Up...

It may seem cliché but the phrase that "everything happens for a reason" is true. There are events that happened in my life and at the time I didn't understand why. But things became a lot clearer later on in the journey.

I got rejected countless times when applying for jobs or funding for my studies, only to find that I was being redirected to much better opportunities.

It is true that the CA(SA) journey is filled with challenges. What separates those who can overcome the obstacles and those who don't, is the ‘mindset’.

Discipline, focus, determination and hard work are some of the attitudes that assisted me.

The willingness to seek assistance is another key aspect. Asking for help is seen as a weakness when in fact it can be a strength if utilised accordingly.

Additionally, the company you keep is very important. Since my school days, I have surrounded myself with likeminded individuals so that we can learn from and challenge each other. It's a theme I carried into university and articles.

Once you have become a qualified CA, pay it forward by assisting others on their CA paths. Lastly, remember that you're on your journey. Therefore, don't compare your struggles, tribulations, and triumphs to those of others.

Cyril Madiba is a Durban-born chartered accountant with almost 10 years post qualification experience. He is a certified life coach and has a Harvard Business School certificate in Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies. He is a published author of two books under his pen name Abidam Liryc, as part of the "I'm Not Supposed To Be Here" on Amazon.com, which is based on his remarkable life story. More information on the work he does can be found on his personal website: www.cyrilmadiba.com.

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