The significance of these links is apparent from the following statistics: in 2003 a total of 155 professional accountancy bodies existed in 113 countries and were members of the International Federation of Accountants. Of those, 61 bodies (39%) were located in 41 countries (36%) that were formerly members of the British Empire as it existed by the mid-twentieth century. The remarkable significance of these statistics is that the growth of the accountancy profession worldwide cannot be understood without an imperial dimension.1
1 See R H Parker (2005) ‘Naming and branding: Accountants and Accountancy Bodies in the British Empire and Commonwealth 1850-2003'. Unpublished paper: 1
The legacy of the British professional associations can be traced in the history of the professional associations that had developed in the Transvaal Colony since 1904, in the Natal Colony since 1907, the Orange River Colony since 1907 as well as the Cape Colony since 1907. The question is how these associations were influenced by the different approaches of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Society of Incorporated Accountants (established in 1885) and later the Association of Certified Corporate Accountants (ACCA – est 1939 by merger).
Each of these professional organisations had different approaches to professional conduct, education and training of accountants and exclusiveness or inclusiveness of membership.
These professional organisations had a profound impact on the emergence of a distinct South African profession of accountants. We need to explore these subtle influences systematically in order to come to a sound understanding of the path of development of the accountancy profession in South Africa.
No research has yet been undertaken to establish how the profession in South Africa established itself and what characterised this strand of the profession amidst a society in transition from rural British colonies or independent Boer Republics to a unitary state. Most of the transition had to do with the adaptation to British sovereignty while a sizeable portion of the population resented the submission to the British monarchy.
These reservations soon made way for the emergence of a nascent South African nation, albeit to the exclusion of the majority of the African, Coloured and growing Asian populations. How did the context and content of these geo-political developments impact on the role and status of the professional accountants in South Africa? It is also not clear what influence the practising accountants had on the emerging South African society and its economic development.
The Department of Accountancy at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has a proud record of academic excellence, first-class performance in professional education of accountants and commitment to facilitation programmes to enhance the success of students from environments not naturally preparing them for or encouraging them towards education as accountants. The spirit of innovation and holistic education of students in financial accounting, auditing, management accounting and taxation has become the distinctive characteristic of this department.
It was therefore no surprise that this department stepped forward to pioneer the first distinct focus area of accounting history within the department in 2009. A chair in Economic and Accounting History was established to pave the way forward in systematic research in the History of Accounting and Accountants, the History of the Profession of Accountants in South Africa, as well as all the other diverse, but related aspects of accounting practice.
Accounting historians have often been accused of an unhealthy tendency to introversion, but much of the academic endeavours of accountants in universities' departments of accountancy had suffered similar intellectual isolationism. The UJ's Department of Accountancy has benefited from academic leaders in the accounting profession as well as young dynamic academics observing and experiencing the intellectual challenge of interdisciplinary engagement. As various sub-disciplines of history had sought to extend the vitality and relevance of their distinguished fields of analysis by interdisciplinary inquiry, so has Accounting History.
The Department of Accountancy has had the honour of close association with the doyen of Accounting History in South Africa, Professor Lucas Marthinus van Vuuren. Lucas taught at the Rand Afrikaans University from 1969 to 1971, after which he was Professor of Accountancy at UNISA.
As Chief Executive Officer of the Public Accountants' and Auditors' Board (PAAB) between 1984 and 1998, he served to bring his rich experience to bear on the practice and teaching of accountancy in South Africa. It was primarily his enthusiasm and commitment to the study of accounting History that convinced the Department of Accountancy to initiate the study of accounting history in 2009. asa
The profession produced various reports, of which Lucas co-authored the PAAB Report on education and training policies. This report laid the foundation for the current IRBA and SAICA education requirements. In tailoring these reports Lucas' experience in teaching Accountancy, as well as an understanding of the relevance of accounting history in understanding the socio-economic interaction of accountancy with society, helped to negotiate the way forward for the accounting profession in South Africa.
One must understand the meaning of history in contextualising existential issues, especially under circumstances of trying transition. Extensive work has been done on the early accountants' role in society, their role as the drivers of business and the profession's contribution to the development of South Africa, the society and its people. One cannot neglect the value of historical roots in everything people do. Lucas has done a great deal to nuture the understanding that accountants have an invaluable role to perform in building the transforming South African society into a prosperous but ethically transparent society. It is here that accounting History is vital in explaining transaction motivation, professional leadership and business accountability. Without a sound understanding of the history of business from bookkeeping to managing fortunes, from auditing governance to financial management of entrepreneurial actions, accounting history offers the academic accountancy population the unique opportunity to reflect on its own struggles, developments and relevance to the wider world. Lucas' life-long experience in accountancy and in the professional environment, gave him the perseverance to insist that accounting history as a field of scholarly inquiry can enhance the study of accountancy to those leading in business and finance in South Africa.
The Department of Accountancy was therefore well positioned to sumit a tender put out by SAICA in 2009 to conduct a systematic research report on the Development of the Accounting Profession in South Africa. An agreement was signed between SAICA and the Department of Accountancy to conduct in-depth historical research, first into the development of the professional accounting organisations in the four constituing colonies before the formation of the Union of South Africa. Then the research will follow the path of professional organisation through political unification in 1910, through professional unification of the four professional organisations to form SAICA in 1982 and the establishment of statutory professional regulation since 1951. These developments contributed to the emergence of an accounting profession in South Africa with distinct characteristics from fellow professionals in other parts of the world.
Accounting history has prospered over the past decades. Extensive scholarly activity on accounting technologies has provided contextualised insights into the varied and changing calculative techniques and devices employed for the measurement, representation and communication of financial and other data. In the historical inquiry into accounting technology, researchers have studied mechanisms for holding persons accountable in diverse settings as used by governments, households etc. Accounting history has also ventured into the systematic enquiry into ‘institutions' that are the organisations in which accountants are employed. This field of enquiry addresses the sociology of occupations, identity and socialisation in historical perspective pertaining to accountants. Accounting history recently also explored the interfaces of accounting with the economy, society, culture and politics. This rapidly growing field of accounting History has displayed the interdisciplinary scope of the field of study. “Society and Culture” has become an increasingly popular part of accounting history, where researchers have explored the gender, race and indigenous dimensions of the accounting profession. Specific attention is awarded to the study of mechanisms employed to construct and manipulate relations of power in specific environments.
Finally accounting History has engaged extensively with inquiry into the role of accounting in the government, protection and financing of states. The importance of taxation to the fabric and maintenance of political systems is integrated in this research in accounting history. This dynamic sphere of ‘Accountancy in Society' is the focus of study in the discipline of accounting history.
The research into accounting history in the Department of Accountancy is a tribute to Lucas Marthinus van Vuuren, an 'accountant in society'. The unit for the study of accounting history research represents an open invitation to all those entrusted with the blessing of health, intellect and enthusiasm in accountancy, to join in the exploration of the meaning of their discipline through its development and contribution to the world in which they live. Lucas has donated his most valuable accounting History books to the UJ Library Rare Book Collection. There students have the privilege of reading and studying in Accounting History and further their own academic enquiry.
The systematic study of accounting history unravels many aspects of the development of the profession, the development of accounting education and standard setting and professional examination, the development of society-profession interaction to ensure the development of a healthy, vibrant well governed business sector in South Africa. But we do not yet have a clear picture of how this professional–society interaction had played itself out to position the profession in leadership positions in the South African economy – business, finance, governance and management. Were these developments in South Africa similar to the development paths of other Commonwealth countries? Did the professional paths diverge from the mother organisations' paths or has it shadowed those paths? The study of the history of accounting and accountants in South Africa, as pioneered by the Department of Accountancy at the UJ is the first step towards the systemantic exploration of professional development, culture, society and economic advancement.
Ongoing research in accounting history is now conducted at the Department of Accountancy at the unit for the study of accounting History. Colleagues and students are invited to call Professor Grietjie Verhoef at 011 559 2008 or send an e@mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about the possibilities of research in accounting history at UJ. The entire profession is invited to join in this enthusiasm and the living memory of those promoting accounting History in the ongoing research at the Department of Accountancy, UJ. This invitation is specifically directed at all accountants, in current practice or in slow retirement, to communicate any recollections they have of the development of the accountancy profession in South Africa with the research team at UJ. We are in a critical search for original documents, personal papers, diaries and minute books of accountancy societies in South Africa and the former colonies. All such valuable material received will be placed in safekeeping in the Rare Book Collection of the library of the University of Johannesburg. This is also an invitation to call us to arrange an interview if you have valuable source material for the research project on the development of the Accountancy Profession in South Africa, since 1900 to the present. Let us make this a collective effort to record the proud history of the profession in South Africa.
To read the last part of this interesting article please visit www.accountancysa.org.za asa
Grietjie Verhoef, D litt et Phil, BA (cum laude), BA (Hons) (History) (cum laude), BA (Hons) (Economics) (cum laude), MA History (cum laude), is a Professor in Economic and Accounting History, Department of Accountancy, University of Johannesburg.