In post-apartheid South Africa, transformation has largely remained an elusive concept. Yet, the accounting sector has emerged as an outlier – with the University of Johannesburg (UJ) leading the charge.
Here, transformation refers to the deliberate and comprehensive process of addressing the historical imbalances, injustices, and inequalities that were entrenched during apartheid. Transformation continues to be a priority for organisations and the government alike based on the premise that it will address the country’s overarching socioeconomic challenges and create more inclusive and sustainable structures.
While some strides have been made since 1994, it would be erroneous to declare that South Africa is now transformed. The slow pace of transformation has created distrust and hampered cohesion – a legacy deeply entrenched in the very fabric of our society. Yet, mindful of this twisty and uncertain path we remain on, there are lessons to be learnt from pockets of success. As David Thomas phrased it in 2020, ‘Despite the continuing tailwinds of the economy and problems in the BEE model, one sector has demonstrated that meaningful transformation can happen with an unbending commitment to change and a properly resourced plan of action.’ Alluding to the accounting sector, Thomas outlines the pace and depth of transformation in the industry over the last three decades driven by SAICA.
In 2019, Innocent Musonda, Trynos Gumbo and Chioma Okoro found that transformation in the sector has been guided by the need to achieve demographic equity alongside compliance with regulations, recognition of skills demands in the 21st century and meaningful contribution to the community.1 In this process, SAICA has engaged with stakeholders and employees to develop transformation strategies, including academic support programmes, career awareness projects and development camps at the school level.
UJ is a testament to the effectiveness of a comprehensive transformation strategy. Over the last 16 years, UJ has consistently been the largest residential contributor of African students to the accounting profession as recognised by SAICA. In 2023, 159 first-time African students from UJ passed the ITC examination, making the university the largest contributor of both residential and distance-learning universities of African students to the accounting profession. This means that UJ contributed an astonishing 22% of the total number of first-time African candidates that passed the ITC examination from the 18 SAICA-accredited universities. A pertinent question is how we have done this.
Since its inception, UJ has cultivated a diversity, equity, and inclusion culture. We have proactively admitted and supported students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds from Quintile 1 and 2 schools. Additionally, UJ’s curriculum has evolved to address South Africa’s unique socioeconomic challenges, emphasising the importance of ethical and socially responsible accounting practices. Transformation, in this sense, also recognises the impact of glaring global shifts such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and this impact on the sector. In this regard, we have introduced a compulsory subject entitled ‘4IR in Accounting’ offered to all third-year accounting students. We have done this in line with the industry cognisant of the fact that transformation cannot occur in silos.
Although there is still a long road to travel towards achieving broader transformation, the accounting sector and UJ’s strides in recent years serve as an important case study of what we can achieve with deliberate and transformative strategies.
1 Innocent Musonda, Trynos Gumbo, and Chioma Okoro, 2019, An assessment of transformation strategies in South Africa: a multi-case study of the accounting, financial services, government, and construction sectors, Acta Structilia, 26(2):71−106, https://journals.ufs.ac.za/index.php/as/article/view/4167.
Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Johannesburg