William Ngobeni’s road to qualify as a CA(SA) been an exceptionally long and windy one. In February this year, he finally passed the qualifying exams after over a decade of stops and starts. SAICA applauds him for his courageous effort to persevere and succeed.
William Ngobeni grew up in the small village of Lefiswane in Mpumalanga where just like many of his peers, his heroes and role models were teachers, nurses, policemen and doctors. His dream was to be a doctor, but when he began to excel in accounting, his teacher convinced him otherwise.
While William was still a young boy, his father was hit by a car that left him paralysed and unable to work. At the age of 12, another tragedy occurred when he lost his mother through a car accident in 1999. He moved to Alexandra township in 2000 where he stayed with his two aunts and uncle. He describes the living conditions of living in a one-room house as challenging:
‘I studied for matric using a candle on top of a bed while my aunt and uncle were sleeping. This was tough but that served as a motivation for me to change my situation. Although I grew up in “not so perfect family”, I was raised with absolute love by my aunt and I never felt like I had lost my mother. I completed my matric in 2004 at Alexandra Secondary School.’
William showed a natural aptitude for all things accounting-related, and when he obtained 84% for his first-ever accounting test in Grade 8, his accounting teacher, Mrs Mashele, convinced him to change his career path ideas and rather follow the accounting route.
The path was by no means an easy one to follow as it takes a minimum of seven years to qualify as a CA(SA). For William, the journey took twice as long, and his story is an amazing tale of perseverance.
William was fortunate to be chosen to attend extra maths and English lessons at St Mary’s Outreach Project during his Grades 11 and 12. Here he met Jelvin Griffioen – the then coordinator of the UJ Equity and the Thuthuka Programme − and was eventually awarded a Thuthuka bursary for his accounting studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
He started his tertiary studies in 2005 and his overall study highlight was passing his honours degree (the CTA) after he had exhausted his chances of writing the first qualifying exam, the Initial Test of Competence (ITC). William says that technically this was his fourth attempt, as he had previously written it twice at UJ – in 2008 and 2009 – before his Unisa attempts in 2016 and 2017. He had many doubts about even attempting the CTA again in 2017, as he had failed it ‘dismally’ in 2016.
In 2012 William had met Mr Komape, a tax and audit manager at Nkonki Inc when he was completing his articles. Although Mr Komape is blind, he had successfully qualified as a chartered accountant. This was a major motivation for William − enough for him to hang in and persevere until he got his CA(SA) qualification.
‘My relationship with Mr Komape as my mentor was open and deep as I was free to speak to him about my personal, work and family issues. We used to have a catch-up session where I provided him with feedback about a study schedule we came up with,’ says William with appreciation.
William believes that mentors are crucial in making it academically and as a professional as they have the know-how and can give you advice about life’s challenges.
Rolling with the punches
But it’s not just academic pressure that William faced. The hardships kept coming, as financial resources had always been an issue – so much so that he had to take up loan after loan to pay for his study fees and study material.
His good friend Patrick Leshomo CA(SA) gave him the R11 000 he needed to register for extra lessons for the CTA with Edge Business School in 2017. If not for Patrick’s financial assistance and belief in him, and the additional academic support from Edge, William doubts he would be where he is today.
In addition to the formal academic qualification path, workplace experience plays a role in qualifying in the form of the three-year articles learnership programme. William completed his training contract at Nkonki Inc and had an amazing experience there despite the challenge of studying while working full time. Yet, in 2018, Nkonki Inc filed for liquidation.
This affected William emotionally as he had to find new ways to settle the fees for his professional training programme and APC studies as he had no financial backing.
The best of times, the worst of times …
William admits that 2019, the year he successfully wrote the APC, was also one of the most painful of his life. He lost his paternal and maternal grandfathers in the space of four months. Yet he managed to keep studying, stay motivated and stay the course. William took time off to watch soccer on TV and at the stadium when studies got too strenuous, but his family was a critical factor to his success as he didn’t want his daughter to face the same financial challenges he did.
William’s grandmother also gave him emotional support throughout the journey, and always encouraged him to stay focused and keep trying.
William’s luck finally changed when he learned that he had successfully completed the APC in February this year. His immediate plan is to take time out from studying for now and spend quality time with his support group of family and friends, as he feels he has missed out on too much time with them during his studies.
A call for more inclusive support
While his loved ones are proud of his accomplishments, William says that his success was also celebrated in the social media space, as many have gone through similar struggles on the path to reaching their dream career regardless of the profession.
‘The support I got on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn was amazing, as I’m not too active on those platforms. It all started with a post on Unisa’s CTA Level 1 and Level 2 Facebook group. The page serves as a community of students mainly studying for their CTA at Unisa but is also open to other universities. It’s a support group and at times serves as a motivational page where former students pop in now and then to share their journey.’
Because motivation is certainly needed, from all corners. The total number of candidates who sat for the notoriously difficult assessment in 2019 increased by 17,2%, yet the overall pass rate decreased by 12%. William believes that professional programme providers like the APT and UCT are doing their utmost to prepare students for the APC exam, but he feels more needs to be done to establish where the true challenges lie.
But it’s not all bad news, as the number of African chartered accountants under the age of 35 has increased significantly from 3% in 2002 to 25% in 2020. William attributes this rise to the projects such as SAICA’s Thuthuka project which aims at transforming the profession by ensuring that African candidates are not excluded from the profession due to lack of financial resources, also offering extra assistance tutors. He himself benefited from the project during his undergraduate period at UJ.
Delay does not mean denial
William’s story is testament to the fact that becoming a CA(SA), though not easy, is achievable. He’s keen to encourage those who would like to follow in his footsteps but keep hitting that proverbial brick wall: ‘Delay does not mean denial. Keep giving it your all until the end.’
There’s inspiration everywhere. William encourages candidates to read up the story of Basia Phomane, who had to return to his CTA studies after exhausting his chances of passing the ITC assessment. Basia also finally passed after 10 years, but unfortunately Basia passed away a few months after passing his second qualifying exam. There’s also the real-life story of Vusi Nkabini, who qualified at the age of 52 – so if you don’t make it the first time, don’t despair: all is not lost. But William says we’re definitely in need of more mentors and more programmes such as the Thuthuka initiatives, as these can all play a huge role for struggling students – as they did for him.
William’s tips for overcoming failure
- Always keep in mind the reason why you started your career.
- Take failure as a small set-back and always reminded yourself that delay is not denial.
- Learn from your experience. Repeating the same mistake will lead to the same results.
- Get a mentor for advice on how you can tweak your plans.
- Don’t ever plan for failure; have only success in mind instead.
- Do not beat yourself up. Cry for two minutes and then carry on.
- Take stock and re-evaluate your strategy.
- Remind yourself that there is no success without failure.
- Always surround yourself with positive people.
- Take time to heal emotionally.