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COVER STORY: Advising with an entrepreneur’s heart

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Meta Maponya CA(SA) is the only woman on the advisory committee for SARS. Besides being the youngest by far, she is dynamic with experience covering governance and strategy to business operations enabling her to advise with a holistic approach. Lynn Grala spoke to her

On 19 March 2015 the Minister of Finance announced the names of the members of the advisory committee who will advise him and the Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) on a number of strategic and governance matters relating to SARS.

Meta Maponya CA(SA), the youngest by far and the only woman, is one of the seven members on the committee, and she is determined to make a difference.

Meta admits quite honestly that upon receiving the phone call requesting that she become a part of the committee, her initial reaction could be described as that of guarded enthusiasm.

‘All of a sudden you get a call to say that you have been identified, they already have your CV, but can you please bring your updated one. And you’re thinking to yourself “Huh! Do I?”’ She adds, ‘What an honour, yet what a huge responsibility in a key South African institution that has had more than its fair share of media attention.’

Her research on the advisory committee revealed that it used to exist between 1997 and 2002. And quite coincidentally, within that very same week she read in the newspapers that the CEO of FirstRand, Sizwe Nxasana, had resigned. On reading his profile and CV in the newspaper, she found to her greatest surprise that he had been a member of that first advisory board. This gave her inspiration.

‘I thought to myself, “Okay, I can do this!”’

Set up in terms of section 11 of the South African Revenue Service Act 34 of 1997, one of the primary tasks of the advisory committee will be to provide guidance on the direction of long-term strategy at SARS by ensuring that decisions about SARS operations, personnel, budget and technology support its long-term strategy and plans. The committee will also review the events that have been reported in the media in recent months and advise the Minister and the Commissioner about the best way to prevent similar issues from occurring again.

Ms Maponya, who has been involved at an executive level in numerous businesses, believes she has much to offer: ‘My experience covers governance and strategy to business operations which enable me to have a holistic approach. And being a women and young, I have a lot to give from this perspective, too.’

She has served on a number of boards, including those of AON, Broadband, Infraco and Atlatsa Resources. At present she is also a member of the audit committee of the Department of Correctional Services. She has extensive experience in public sector finance, gained through advising, among others, National Treasury, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Social Housing Regulatory Agency, and Limpopo Housing. She also has investment banking experience, gained at Investec Corporate Finance.

What she has gained from these positions has proven to be invaluable in her personal growth. As she puts it: ‘When you are sitting amongst enlightened people, you can only grow.’

Her very first board appointment was to the Road Agency Limpopo at the age of 29, as chair of the audit committee. It turned out to be an interesting time where she gleaned much experience after the Road Agency was rocked by numerous scandals and put under administration.

‘We had already uncovered certain things that were unsavoury so when they came along thinking “this corrupt board”, we were ready for them.’ She explains: ‘We submitted our files along with the things we had discovered. It was a very challenging time, but it built something in me. I grew so much from that board, particularly in terms of how to handle tricky situations that a person would not normally want to find themselves in. I thank the government of Limpopo for giving me the opportunity.’

CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOL DAYS

Her vibrant and bubbly personality comes to light as she reveals a little about her childhood and school days. Along with her three siblings, she grew up in a township, Mankweng, in Limpopo. ‘It was nice because even though we were brought up in the old apartheid days we were quite sheltered. Our community consisted mainly of professors and lecturers, and that had a very good effect on us. Most of the roads were tarred and the families were sophisticated. Remember, at that time we did not yet relate to the white community.’

She describes her father and mother as the least educated of people in terms of not having degrees after their names, yet they were a highly intelligent couple who were self-taught and widely read. With their intense love of knowledge they knew much more than most people around them.

‘I derived most of my inspiration from them in terms of what they did in days when things were not easy.’ She added, ‘And they managed to do amazing things!’

Her father, a born entrepreneur, owned an abattoir and supplied meat to a whole range of butcheries. ‘Can you believe it, back in those days he used to supply the government. He used to supply the police, prisons and schools with meat. He also eventually opened a Toyota garage. My parents made us work each and every December holiday because they said they made money in December.’

The first private school she attended was St Marks College, a rural private Anglican school in Jane Furse. In 1994 she moved to Capricorn High School – the only English-medium school in Limpopo at the time. At school, she always received second prize for accounting and in high school she graduated with an A.

Although she initially studied actuarial science at Wits, she graduated with a BCom Honours degree, with a special focus in advanced auditing and advanced taxation, from the University of Natal. She was top of her class and received honours.

‘Being a CA(SA) opens so many doors. I always say it is a means to an end because it gives you an opportunity to do whatever you want to do.’ She continued, ‘It gives you an inclination about the business arena and helps you understand just about everything. I say people must look at each and every career as a business – even if you’re a musician. In fact, I think the reason why a lot of musicians fail is because they did not run their businesses properly. I believe a CA(SA) can go into any industry  because you need controls, you need checks and balances, you need to know about risk management.’

MAHLAKO A PHAHLA INVESTMENTS

Like her father and mother, Ms Maponya is a goal-oriented entrepreneur, determined to achieve, but also one who loves working with people.

Leaving the corporate world at a young age, she joined her entrepreneurial cousin, Phatudi Maponya, a person from whom she learnt a great deal. ‘He literally left me to fend for myself and get the business operations going. I had to set up the systems and operations and recruit people, while growing the business, handling marketing and sales and managing costs.’

Currently, she is the executive director of Mahlako A Phahla Investments, an advisory and investment holding company which she started in 2008 with her partner and sister, Makole Mupita, who is also a CA(SA).

The company operates in the electrical, energy, mining, financial, infrastructure and telecoms sectors. Together, Meta and Makole bring diversified as well as complementary skills gained through experiences in different sectors. She expands a bit on how she became involved in the various sectors:

  • Electrical:  ‘I enjoyed this field while managing the development of an affordable housing project and currently we are supplying electrical products to some listed companies.’
  • Energy: ‘My partner was involved with managing a power station while at OMIGSA and they were at the forefront of the development of renewable energy projects. This field is so relevant, with the energy crisis that South Africa faces now. We are currently invested in 275 MW solar power projects in the Northern Cape and have developed wind assets through our investment in DNA Wind. We have a passion for demand side management.’
  • Mining: ‘We have an interest in Atlatsa Resources, a junior platinum mine, through Leswika, a woman investment company started by my mother, after whom the company is named.’
  • Financial: ‘Both my partner and I started our careers in financial services companies. We are currently part of a consortium that owns shares as black economic empowerment partners of AON South Africa that advises government, including the National Treasury. A recent mandate of which we are extremely proud, is closing the first municipal PPP with the City of Tshwane.’

‘The common theme with all these areas is that they relate to infrastructure and they all touch the lives of people directly.’

Mahlako is a member of the Sustainable Energy Society Southern Africa and has an EP Construction Industry Development Board rating of 3.  The company also specialises in preparing feasibility studies for public private partnerships and general funding advisory services.

The company aims to contribute towards the development of South Africa as a whole, by focusing on sectors that are essential to meeting the economic growth and development of South Africa and that contribute towards the fulfilment of communities and eradication of poverty. They are also passionate about the advancement of youth and women.

OUTSIDE HER CAREER

She is married to Sydney Mhlarhi, also a CA(SA), and they have four children, the youngest of whom is only six months old. Meta loves her family and enjoys the quality time they spend around the dinner table each and every night.

She thoroughly enjoys trying out exotic dishes. ‘Sometimes they don’t like it,’ she says, laughing. But although she is still trying to perfect her Indian curry for her husband, she says her children absolutely love her lasagne.

Apart from being the master chef at home, she is an avid jet-setter, with New York City being her favourite city, and says she would love to enjoy a sabbatical there when she turns 40.

Other hobbies include her book club, playing golf and running. ‘I took up running and golf a few years ago. I have a couple of 21 km medals to my name, including one from the Two Oceans Marathon. Maybe one day I will be like my fellow colleague, who has just won the Two Oceans …’

There are still some changes she’d still like to see in South Africa: ‘As we are busy with this interview numerous xenophobic attacks have been reported. I would like to see better access to quality education and inclusion of more people in economic activity.’

She concludes: ‘I’d like to see increased meaningful participation by black people in all aspects of the economy. I call all these the bus ticket. You can be free to go where ever you like, but you are not free if you can’t afford the bus ticket to get there. Most of all I want to see tolerance and respect for one another as a people.’

Author:

Lynn Grala is Editorial Administrator of Accountancy SA

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