Only do that which you can answer for, says Xoliswa Hlongwane, Ushaka CFO

The recently appointed public sector CFO is also the winner of the 2017 BWA award in the Government category

Xoliswa Hlongwane has always seen herself as highly favoured, despite her high school in rural Elandskop in Pietermaritzburg having limited resources. Although she had no idea how she would pay for it, Xoliswa was determined to get a university education. Her determination saw her through and now, as the newly appointed CFO of municipal entity Ushaka Marine World, she shares her insights on working in the public sector.

A recipient of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), Xoliswa recalls praying that her great-grandmother would continue being able to sign her financial aid affidavit each year as the person who stood financial surety for her student loan. Thankfully her great-granny was able to do so with unfailing regularity, being both healthy and committed to seeing her great-granddaughter graduate one day.

Xoliswa believes that becoming a chartered accountant [CA(SA)] was the best “by chance” decision she ever made. “Honestly speaking, I heard my friends at orientation week saying they would be pursuing the profession, so I got on the bandwagon,” she says. “There wasn’t much information available at KwaMncane High School about career choices. It was up to me to find the information that would influence my career choices.”

At 31 years of age, Xoliswa is making remarkable progress in her career. Her previous portfolio was deputy head within the eThekwini Municipality Audit and Risk Advisory Services Unit. Aside from being the CFO designate at Ushaka Marine World, she was recently appointed an external expert to the Audit and Risk Committee at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Also the winner of the 2017 Business Women’s Association (BWA) award in the Government category, Xoliswa reflects:

“You never really take stock of your achievements until you are required to put together a portfolio of evidence. Being a finalist and a subsequent BWA award winner was a great experience.”

The young professional would like to see a shift away from the less-than-favourable public perception about the calibre of people working in the public sector. “This perception deters much-needed high-quality professionals,” she says. “I usually educate my fellow professionals or aspiring professionals that the way to counter non-adherence to best practice is by introducing strong internal controls and risk mitigation procedures.”

The leadership at the top sets the tone to enforce controls and contributes to a best-in-class organisation, she continues. “Public sector organisations which have invested in a highly skilled workforce in critical areas have seen dividends in this regard,” she notes.

When the time comes to stand your ground – professionally speaking – on tough issues, Xoliswa says: “It is about viewing yourself as a brand and not wanting your name to be tainted by a bad decision on your part. If you aren’t sure, consult. Responsible leadership means assessing the overall impact of your decisions and choosing an option that optimises shareholder value. Earn your salary and give what is expected of a professional – and more.”

There is little difference between her personality at home and at work. Xoliswa says that while she can be playful, she treats matters of principle very seriously. “My sisters and cousins tell me I am strict,” she says. “I believe you should always be yourself and do what you can answer for. And respect everyone.”