Ms Ayanda Mafuleka, CEO of the Finance and Accounting Services SETA (FASSET) has been at the helm of the organisation since early 2019. Mafuleka is a qualified chartered accountant and a mother of three. She attributes the tenacity in her work-life balance to the philosophy “Ora et labora”, meaning pray and work. She was first introduced to this Latin phase many years ago during her Catholic schooling at St Francis College in Marianhill, in KwaZulu-Natal. The phrase has since become her personal motto for mastery at everything she does.
A chartered accountant by accident
Having not even touched accounting in high school, Ayanda Mafuleka (left) had never aspired to become a chartered accountant (CA). She was a maths and science student who, when she could not secure funding for medical school, succeeded in securing funding with CAs’ Eden Trust Bursary Scheme. She attributes her path to the commerce stream to destiny pull and this is how she enrolled for the Bachelor of Commerce at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1998. “For someone without an accounting background I was able to do well – through sheer hard work.” Her tuition was later picked up by Transnet until she completed her BCom in 2001.
Somewhere along her BCom journey, Mafuleka learned that black female CAs in South Africa accounted for less than one percent of professionals in this discipline. “I wondered, what is so special about this profession, and thought, well, I am going to become a chartered accountant then.” Her competitive spirit and determination would carry her. Today, she sits at the pinnacle of an entity employing 74 people.
The long and arduous road
It was no easy road. “I failed multiple times before I could qualify as a CA,” she says. It was not until 11 years after UKZN that she could clutch a CA certificate in her hands. On completion of her BCom degree in 2001, she relocated to Gauteng to conclude her work-back programme at Transnet, in fulfilment of her bursary obligations. While serving in various business units of Transnet from 2003, and with her sights set on qualifying as a CA one day, she enrolled for part-time study with the University of South Africa, first for a BCom Honours also known as Certificate in the Theory of Accounting (CTA) in 2007, and much later (2014 to 2015) for a post-graduate qualification in Forensic Auditing. She would not complete the latter as she opted for an LLB degree at a later stage.
From 2009 she joined the National Treasury as a CA Trainee, “where I completed my articles. This is where my skills as a CA crystallised.” It was from within the National Treasury that she succeeded in her Initial Technical Competency (ITC) examination. She had first sat for ITC in 2008 but had not succeeded in that attempt.
She discovers FASSET, the restorer of hope
Through a support programme initiated through the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SIACA), Mafuleka first learnt of FASSET, the organisation that would offer to support her through her second attempt at the ITC examination. “They paid the full costs of my textbooks, classes and mentoring.” FASSET would also come to her aid when they funded the additional mentoring and attendance of classes she needed at the University of Johannesburg, in preparation for her Assessment of Professional Competency (APC), which was also called the Final Board Exam. Through this intervention, FASSET became her hope restorer. The accounting aspirant would ultimately qualify as a CA in 2012, just before turning 32.
Beyond the National Treasury she continued to work in the public service where she rose through senior managerial positions until she was made Director: Finance and Support Services in the Department of Home Affairs and held senior other positions in finance, in various other public entities.
In 2018, her dedication to finance was recognised when she won the Woman of Stature Award as “Woman of the Year in Finance”. But she would reach the apex of her career during early 2019 when she was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of FASSET, the place that she happily now calls home. But this talented woman does far more than just head up FASSET.
Now driving skills development in partnership with USAf
She describes FASSET as a sector education and training authority (SETA) founded 21 years ago to grow much needed skills within the Finance and Accounting Services sector. The SETA funds a variety of interventions responding to the top ten scarce skills in the sector, key among which are accounting, auditing, and finance. This is for the benefit of employed and unemployed youth from previously disadvantaged groups.
FASSET is a Schedule 3A public entity whose executive authority is the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, who is accountable to Parliament. Their performance management and financial administration is monitored through applicable National Treasury prescripts.
To fulfil their mandate, FASSET collaborates with many partners who share their interest in, and commitment to skills development. These stakeholders include public universities, professional bodies, employer organisations that include small, medium and large auditing/accounting/tax and consulting firms and government institutions.
“Our bouquet of offerings includes bursary scheme, academic support programmes, internship/learnership programmes and various non-pivotal programmes.”
For close to five years now, FASSET has funded the repayment of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) debt for students who were supported with loans in the past. “We especially target young graduates just starting to serve articles. We find that people tend to abandon learnerships and internships for better paying jobs. This is an incentive for the young accounting graduates to stay in the sector and contribute.”
In the 2020/21 financial year, FASSET, through USAf, approved R45 million in university tuition fees and in assisting students who had exited the system but could not graduate, by paying off their historical debt, thus enabling them to graduate and start contributing in society.
What makes USAf an attractive partner
First, USAf is the gateway to South Africa’s 26 public universities. On its own, FASSET would have typically funded only three to four institutions in a year, dependent on universities who would have applied for support. The CEO adds that in any given year, “you might find three to four ICT students among mostly finance and accounting peers…However, with USAf by our side, we will now be able to take on many more students in additional disciplines meeting our scarce skills criterion, and those who are struggling to pay tuition fees.”
Secondly, Mafuleka says they are deeply concerned that even though they have access to accurate numbers of students enrolled in the university sector, “we have not yet made a dent in funding students from the historically disadvantaged institutions. Eighty per cent of our target market is there and that is the area of biggest need.” She says by reaching out to more HDIs, FASSET’s interventions should go further in redressing inequalities and facilitating transformation while reducing unemployment. This partnership will also enable FASSET to supply the necessary skills to industry, thus closing the skills gaps within the sector.
Thirdly, investment in the university sector is a matter of national interest, the CEO adds, citing the crises that funding challenges often trigger in the system. She says the #FeesMustFall protests, six years ago, opened their eyes to the plight of the students whose total family income is lodged between the NSFAS threshold and the minimum that would qualify them for commercial loans. “By helping these students, we are responding to the funding crisis for the benefit of this specific group,” she says.
A relationship likely to endure into the future
The head of FASSET says she wants to optimise the USAf partnership for the benefit of the African child. Firmly believing this relationship is only a start of what is to become a lot more enduring, she says she hopes to look back five years from now and see results in visible youth transformation.
But who is Ayanda Mafuleka?
She calls herself an ordinary girl from Umlazi. She also regards herself an open book. “What you see is what you get. I gave birth to my first daughter at 21 while busy with my studies at UKZN. But I picked myself up and stayed focused. I also gave birth to my son, two weeks before I sat for my final CA exams. I now have two daughters and a son. My son is nine years old and my second daughter, my last born, is eight.
“I am mentioning all these things, and my multiple failures, to show others that nothing in life comes easily. Human beings experience challenges. What matters is that they can rise above them. Even when I kept failing, I decided ‘hell, no. I am going back.’ Prayer and hard work eventually pulled me through.
“I am unapologetic about my prayer life”
“As a CA, my personal philosophy remains to lead my team and, in the background, to take care of my spiritual and mental well-being through prayer.
“I am not apologetic about my prayer life. It is constant prayers of others and my own that have helped me rise through many challenges.” She says she had her fair share during these CoViD-19 times and learnt just how it challenges one’s psychological state, and not only one’s immunity. “That’s when I realised how resilient the human spirit can be.”
I want things done, and done now
“By being competitive, I am often misunderstood. I want things done and done now. I aspire to exude excellence, and I am especially inspired by having worked with female leaders who are good at what they do. I am even open to attending meetings during weekends if they mean getting things done right.
“What speaks to me as Ayanda and what I hold dearest, is to be the best that I could be and empower other people, especially women. I have a deep desire to see other women living up to God’s purpose in their lives. In any opportunity given I engage and support women. And most importantly, I intercede through prayer for women. I aspire to be a beacon of hope for other women who can look up to me and say ‘If Ayanda could become a CEO before the age of 40, then so can I.’
“I also desire to live to see the first female president of SA. Women leaders are well rounded and capable. We bring compassion and the emotional element in our leadership. I think our country needs empathy. For me, there are two portfolios that I could contribute in if I were to become a minister in the Executive. One would be Education. I am a firm believer that education liberates the mind and empowers you towards future opportunities. This country is still in serious short supply of much needed skills which can be addressed through robust skills development initiatives. The other is Human Settlements.” She says as a divorcee who, at some point had had to start afresh, her own dignity and self-worth was restored the day she secured a home for her children. While acknowledging that some progress has been made in providing proper human settlements in South Africa, it is concerning that “many of our brothers and sisters continue to live in conditions not even fit for animals.”
Getting the work-life balance right
Admitting that she may not have mastered maintaining the work-life balance, she says she continues to work at keeping everything afloat to the best of her ability. “It is about setting time – FASSET time from Monday to Friday. Working from home has enabled me to maximise time for each aspect of my life including time with my children.
She says she loves reading even though she has not invested as much time in it as she would have loved to, lately. Her current reads include Young and Busy Shaking the World, a book in which Pastor Gugu Dlamini, the former CEO of the LGSETA, shares her experiences and her journey in the SETA space and beyond. Her other current read is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, who shares insights into gaining power; not to control others but to become more assertive.
Lastly, she gets daily wise nuggets form the Bible. Her daily affirmations drawn from the Holy Book include “I am the head, not the tail; No weapon formed against me shall prosper”. As a CEO, she holds the view that though she doesn’t know it all, she is unafraid to learn and grow beyond.
In addition to the above, Mafuleka has a penchant for walking. “I enjoy early morning and early afternoon walks. That is how I clear my head and keep in touch with nature.”
Co-written by Khutso Moleko, a Digital Communication Consultant contracted to
USAf and ‘Mateboho Green, Manager: Corporate Communication at USAf.
FASSET AT A GLANCEFASSET has driven transformation in the finance and accounting sector to effect dramatic and radical change to the sector’s demographic profile and, in so doing, create a robust and sustainable industry. Transformation is seen as a non-negotiable factor of change, but as a critical component of nation building.
The financial and accounting services sector is synonymous with specialised and professional services and, employs many professionals. The sector is home to investment entities, trusts and company secretary service providers; stockbroking and financial market firms; financial development organisations; accounting, bookkeeping, auditing, and tax service providers; business and management consultancies; the South African Revenue Service; the national and provincial treasuries; and debt collection and similar agencies.
FASSET SETA’s academic interventions include funding at school level, post school level and still goes beyond through to employment level interventions to ensure that the applicants progress through their careers are efficiently supported. The support programmes form the following phases:
1. School level:
a. Career awareness events at high schools and post-school level to guide school-goers and unemployed youth in career choice.
b. Career portal with comprehensive information on career paths and opportunities, and a resumé builder.
c. Training of life orientation teachers to enhance the quality of guidance provided to school-goers.
d. Additional maths, accounting and English lessons to enhance learners’ success in the national school certificate exams and entry to tertia education.
FASSET runs a career awareness programme through which the organisation, in partnership with like-minded organisations, positioned the finance and accounting services sector as an attractive career choice to school learners. Here, Ms Mafuleka is seen giving a motivational talk, prior to the CoViD-19 pandemic, to learners at one of the schools in her home township of Umlazi, just outside of Durban. This was within the context of FASSET’s partnership with Rural 2 Rural Initiative, an organisation focused on creating advancement opportunities for rural communities.
2. Post-school level:
a. Post-school academic support programmes, which lead to the completion of qualifications (including TVET college qualifications) and/or professional designations.
b. FASSET Bursary Scheme, provides end-to-end financial support covering not only tuition, but accommodation, books and equipment, and subsistence expenses. The suite of Academic Support programmes may be applied directly to the Institution of Higher Learning.
c. Learner professional development initiatives to ensure that employed graduates have the skills needed to deliver in the workplace.
3. Employment level:
a. TVET work-based experience programme, which enables students to complete the practical component of their courses to secure their diplomas. learnerships, which are work-based learning programmes that lead to a qualification registered on the National Qualifications Framework.
b. Mandatory and discretionary grants for employers to fund skills development programmes that will upskill their employees and, consequently, enhance the professionalism of the sector. Continuous professional development through Lifelong Learning events, which keep the skills of employees current and relevant.
c. National Student Financial Aid Scheme Loan Repayment Grant, which alleviates the financial burden on graduates by assisting them to repay their loans.