Darlene Nzorubara (DN), Principal at IFAC, spoke with South Africa’s Auditor General, Ms. Tsakani Maluleke. She is the first woman to hold this position in the supreme audit institution’s 109-year history. She was also the first woman deputy Auditor General of South Africa.
Her background as a Chartered Accountant spans more than 20 years, with experience in both the private and public sectors, and in areas as diverse as auditing, consulting, corporate advisory, development finance, investment management and skills development agencies.
Tsakani served on the Presidential Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Advisory Council, where she successfully led a subcommittee that developed recommendations for broad-based Black economic empowerment. Tsakani’s career is motivated by a passion to actively contribute to advancing Black men and women in the accountancy profession. Her role as the former South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) non-executive chairperson of the board enabled her current work.
Darlene Nzorubara (DN): Tell us about your career journey as a Black woman in South Africa. Who or what inspired you to enter the accountancy profession? Tell us about your path to become a professional accountant.
Tsakani Maluleke (TM): Hi Darlene. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story. When I was growing up in the 1980’s, my father was in practice as an attorney. Over and above running his own practice as well as the family retail business, he was very active in driving the growth and transformation of the legal profession in South Africa. Back then, there were very few Black lawyers and even fewer Black women in the profession. Much of his work in this area was informed by a strong sense of duty and responsibility to help younger people fulfill their dreams and to make a contribution to transforming the legal profession such that it represented South African society and would therefore have the ability and legitimacy to serve society.
As I prepared to enter university, I was determined to emulate him and set out to study towards a legal degree. He supported this but recommended that I rather start with a commercial degree and I dutifully obeyed. In my first year of studies, I had the opportunity to do some vacation work with two international audit firms. During that short time, I got some sense of what CAs do, and experienced and understood that the representation of Black people (especially Black women) in the CA profession was worryingly low. Somebody suggested that it was hard for Black people to successfully complete the required academic studies and professional examinations. I then decided to disprove the theory – the truth is that I pivoted toward the accountancy profession largely as an act of rebellion!
DN: You started your career in the private sector. Why did you switch to the public sector and what do you enjoy the most about working in the public sector?
TM: I carry a deep sense of duty and a desire to serve society. My work in the public sector affords me the opportunity to link my professional work to some impact in the lived reality of the people of SA.
The office that I lead, the AGSA, is a professional setting that is run on the basis of the standards and practices that one finds in the private sector, and yet it serves the public sector.
DN: In 2014, you became the first woman deputy Auditor General and in December 2020, you became the first woman Auditor General of South Africa. Is promoting diversity important to you? How do you hope to inspire other women?
TM: My parents raised me to believe that there was nothing that I could not do if I worked hard at it. They taught me that my race and gender do not make me inferior to anybody else. I am grateful for their brave and consistent effort to counter the impact of my siblings and I growing up in “Apartheid South Africa”, which was a country in which people of my race and gender were treated as inferior.
In the private sector, research has proven that companies that prioritize diversity perform better. In the response to the Covid pandemic, countries run by women performed better in managing the pandemic with its complex challenges of balancing the need to protect lives and livelihoods. The fact is that institutions perform better on their mandate when they are diverse because they represent the society that they serve. They are spaces where the contributions of people with diverse skills and experiences are valued.
It is therefore crucial that our institutions and their leaders prioritize diversity.
My appointment as the first female Deputy Auditor General (DAG) and ultimately as the first female AG, arises out of the work of previous leaders of the institution. The male AGs that came before me prioritized diversity and built an institution that today has 50% female representation across its management and leadership levels.
I aim to be a successful AG, one that makes it possible for any woman and man to believe that woman can do this job.
DN: The Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) recently won the prestigious 2023 South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Chairman’s Difference Makers Awards, as well as the award for the training office of the year. How has AGSA shaped its training program to remain attractive to students, particularly women?
TM: We are extremely proud of this achievement! SAICA has acknowledged the efforts of the AGSA in assisting young people to realize their dreams of becoming CAs (now at over 1800), whilst making a significant contribution to the growth and transformation of the profession.
The AGSA’s training scheme is the largest one that has been accredited by SAICA and allows for graduates to join the institution and train towards their CA qualification. To date, there have been over 1,800 CAs that have been trained by the AGSA, predominantly Black people and women. Of the total 1,835 CAs that the AGSA has trained, 994 are women, with 796 being African women. These statistics make the AGSA contribution even more significant.
DN: What would be your recommendation to a student or a young professional considering a career in public sector finance?
TM: Public sector finance provides a fantastic opportunity for finance professionals to apply their technical skills to contribute to the improvement of lives. When public finances are managed well, resources are deployed efficiently and effectively towards their intended purpose and they benefit citizens. Serving as a public sector finance professional provides that straight line between the work one does and the impact on the lives of people and the well-being of societies and democracies. It gives clear expression to that noble goal of accountants servicing in the public interest.
DN: You held many senior positions and leadership roles, and you are the mother of two daughters. How have you tried to maintain a work-life balance?
TM: Work-life balance is an elusive and problematic goal. I try to be a present mom and I help my girls understand why my work is important to me. I am also fortunate that I have a strong support system for my family.
DN: When do you feel the proudest of your work?
TM: When I can see the impact of my work on the lives of people, as individuals, but also in the broader sense.
DN: Who or what inspires you, and what is your “superpower”?
TM: A winning combination of professionalism and a deep regard for people