Woman of Substance Dr Vuyokazi Mahlati: It's all about building a better future

Vuyokazi says CFOs have a role to play in bridging the gap between the economic haves and the have-nots.

Dr Vuyokazi Mahlati, winner of the African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA) Woman of Substance Award, runs Africa’s first indigenous wool processing plant in Butterworth, Eastern Cape, where she teaches unemployed people how to make cashmere garments. 

“For the very first time in this country, we have commercialised cashmere,” she tells. “It gives me such joy empowering people who are in their forties and have never worked a single day in their lives (because of unemployment). To see them undergo training and learning how to make cashmere garments that are renowned worldwide, makes me grateful to effect change within our country.” 

Dr Mahlati, who was recognised with the Woman of Substance Award at the AWCA Annual Woman of Substance Fundraising Banquet on 1 August says that it is great to be associated with an organisation that has a track record of nurturing talent in the accounting field, increasing the number of women accountants for the benefit of society both locally and globally. 

“The big responsibility now, I believe, is to strengthen governance in a world grappling with ethical challenges,” she explains. “Technology is also changing the accounting role.” 

She also points out that the financial sector has evolved from being just an enabler as a service, to being an economic sector surpassing some productive sectors, in terms of contributing to GDP and employment creation. 

“New innovations are needed as traditional finance roles have shifted,” she says. “However, the biggest challenge we face in South Africa is inequality with its casual factors. Finance access has been one of the contributing factors. The financialisation of the economy with limited financial literacy and asset ownership has also contributed to the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.” 

She adds that the role of CFOs and other finance practitioners is so critical in changing this picture. “Part of the problem lies with the training which focuses on servicing the corporates and the public sector with limited focus on small businesses and start-up entrepreneurs. As a social entrepreneur, I believe AWCA should pay attention to this gap and find relevant partners to contribute to addressing it.” 

As for her own future, Dr Mahlati said:

“I have had the privilege of operating at a theoretical, policy and practical level. As a gender and development activist I continue to participate in the advocacy space, but am now preparing to play a more supportive rather than a leading role. Younger people must be given space. Am starting with my own daughter in our enterprise. It’s time to mentor and write.”

About winning the Woman of Substance Award, Dr Mahlati said: 

“Winning the Woman of Substance Award, I believe, is a vote of confidence in the acts that advance society which I have been privileged to initiate, drive and be part of. It is about recognition of efforts and encouragement to build on the current gains for a better future for all.”