CFO Cares: Luyanda Gidini changing the face of accountancy and finance in South Africa

The Metropolitan Trading Company CFO is on a mission to boost the number of black CAs in SA.

Becoming a qualified CA and one of the country’s youngest acting CFOs in the public sector at his current age of 34 was something Luyanda Gidini never imagined growing up in Tembisa, a township on the eastern fringes of Johannesburg.
 
Luyanda says he wasn’t a bright student who passed with flying-colours – the usual hallmark of many aspiring accounting professionals – in high school and university. And he only cam to understand what being a CA actually meant during his third year of studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
 
“You would expect that by the first year of university, I’d understand what career I am actually taking on,” says Luyanda. “But I didn’t even know what a being a shareholder or company director was. I’d hear about the stock market, but I didn’t know what it meant. These are things you study in the first and second years of university and should know them.”
 
Luyanda didn’t know these concepts because although he attended a model C (historically white) school called Midrand High School, which was well resourced, unlike the disadvantaged schools his peers went to in Tembisa, he didn’t grow up privileged.
 
He never had an upbringing that afforded him mentors, who would help match his interests and potential to a suitable career, or exposure to high-profile executives or a business environment.
 
And to attend university, which Luyanda considers as a privilege still reserved for those who can afford it in an unequal South Africa, took big sacrifices from his mother, a single parent and teacher. She had to sell her Midrand family home to fund his B.Com accounting and finance degree as he couldn’t qualify for a bursary or government-subsidised funding because he was considered to be in the “missing middle” bracket. This bracket refers to students that are too poor to afford university themselves but also not poor enough to qualify for government-subsidised funding.
 
“My journey to becoming a finance professional has been tough. But I was passionate and determined. Once I put my mind to something that I am passionate about, I will get it done.”

Today, he has engineered an nine-year-long career in the public sector that has seen him work for the National Treasury, the City of Johannesburg and its subsidiary that owns the city’s fibre infrastructure, Metropolitan Trading Company, where he currently serves as an acting CFO.
 
Paving the way for the next generation
Luyanda is determined to make the path for aspirant black accounting professionals much easier compared with his experiences, through his involvement with the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (Abasa).
 
Away from his demanding full-time job at Metropolitan Trading Company and family life as a father of two children, Luyanda has been the secretary-general (a de facto CEO position) of Abasa, a non-profit organisation that promotes the interest of black people in the accounting profession, for the past five years.
 
Luyanda’s pro-bono involvement in Abasa began in 2012 when he was doing his articles at the National Treasury. He was introduced to the organisation by a friend who persuaded him to use his free-time and skills on weekends to do community work.
 
And because Luyanda is passionate about early childhood development and education, he decided to work closely with Abasa’s education committee, which aims to empower high school pupils – mainly in grades 9 up to 12 – with information about accountancy and other professions.
 
Although Luyanda is Abasa’s secretary-general, he is also involved in the organisation’s outreach initiatives at disadvantaged schools in townships and rural areas across the country.
 
On weekends, Luyanda helps host career days, in which Abasa invites multinational corporations and industry professionals – not just in accounting and finance but across different sectors – to visit pupils at schools to inform them about mentorship opportunities, career choices, bursary information, and the university application process. The initiative also focuses on personal matters such as developing leadership qualities and safer sex practices as some of the communities that Abasa visits are facing a teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS scourge.
 
With Luyanda’s help, Abasa has successfully hosted career days over the past three years in schools that are based in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Eastern Cape, and Gauteng.  As an experienced finance professional, Luyanda often taps into his professional networks to encourage his industry colleagues to give motivational talks to pupils and Abasa’s career days have so far attracted support from organisations such as Anglo American Platinum, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, and many others. Luyanda and Abasa have a rapport with Freeman Nomvalo, the CEO of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, who supports a lot of the organisation’s events.
 
[subhead] Correcting ills of the past
Luyanda’s mission with the career days initiative is to ensure that pupils are better informed about their interests and career choices, and are connected to study and work opportunities – things he was never afforded.
 
He says the initiative has a “cradle to grave” approach. “In high school, before students make their subject choices, we inform them about the subjects they need to take to pursue a certain career. For example, if they want to be an accountant, we tell them that they have to take mathematics and not mathematical literacy.”  The pupils are supported beyond high school as Abasa has student chapters at universities across the country, which provide students opportunities for networking, mentoring and bonding over common interests.
 
“Although our main focus is awareness of the accountancy profession, the reality is that many black children don’t know that there is a big universe of professions that exist,” he says.

“In the black community, you are told what you should study from a young age. You are not encouraged to follow your dreams. You are told to become a doctor because doctors earn a lot of money. Very few black parents would encourage their children to follow the arts or study philosophy if it is their passion.”

Luyanda’s emphasis on the black community is not an accident, it’s deliberate. Some 25 years since the end of white minority rule in South Africa, the faces of poor education standards, poverty and unemployment are still black. Ownership and control patterns of the economy are skewed and still largely in white hands.
 
Luyanda is particularly vexed by the dearth of black CAs, with Abasa figures showing that out of approximately 40,000 qualified CAs in the country, less than 20 percent are black people.  He hopes to make a dent in this number through Absa’s career days, with the aim of making the accountancy profession desirable to follow among pupils.
 
Asked why uplifting disadvantaged communities is important to him, Luyanda cites words often attributed to Indian social justice activist Mahatma Gandhi: “you must be the change you want to see in the world”.

“I can’t run away from South Africa’s problems. I have to contribute to fixing the problems. I do not have the option to emigrate. I have two children and by the time they get to my age, they will probably ask me what I have done to change the country to make it better. Or they’ll ask me if I was just focusing on my career and getting another BMW.”