Image credit: Pixabay/StockSnap
Khaya Sithole, an activist, former Wits lecturer and talk show host on Kaya FM, explained on Twitter how he made it his life’s goal to turn 20 black students into chartered accountants (CAs.)
Image credit: Pixabay/StockSnap
Khaya Sithole made headlines earlier this year when The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) accused the former Wits lecturer of irregularly adding 129 students to the Thuthuka Bursary Fund. They claimed that he forged the project director’s electronic signature and that his actions cost the company more than R10m.
To give background info about the “Wits story, ” Sithole said on Twitter that his project to turn Black students into CAs began eight years ago when a former student contacted him.
He was also a student when I was a tutor. In November 2010, he altered the course of my life with one Facebook post on my wall.— Khaya Sithole (@CoruscaKhaya) December 10, 2018
This is what he said…???????????? pic.twitter.com/BKzCBw9uPU
Sithole said he refused to believe it at first, as UKZN takes over 800 first-year BCom Accounting students and it made no sense that none of them passed. He contacted Professor Lindsay Mitchell to ask why Black students were failing. Professor Mitchell simply responded:
“Well, you abandoned them. Come and fix the mess.”
At the time, Sithole was working at OUTsurance as the Executive Assistant. He was “making a lot of money and on track to make it big in corporate,” but simply couldn’t turn his back on the students at UKZN who needed help. His bosses refused his resignation, so they came to a compromise: Sithole would take a 3-month sabbatical to analyse the situation at UKZN. He explained:
“Professor Lindsay Mitchell cleaned up a room next to his office. And I started working in January 2011. This came with a 62% pay cut. But it was supposed to be just 3 months, so I didn’t really care. Within a week I had gone through the performance of the black students from 2007. The idea was to see where the wheels were falling off. The picture was dire. Crucially, there was a disconnect between Matric results and university performance. It was amplified in the black cohort. I was intrigued.”
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He attended lectures to “observe the dynamics from first year up to honour students” and realised the students were being failed by a system. When the three-month sabbatical was up, he simply couldn’t go back to his “real job” and resigned from RMB.
Sithole explained that the “problem was that most of the students at Honours level had already assimilated into a system that has structural flaws.” Based on his analysis, he created a plan for first-year students to become CAs, but the program was not without risks. He selected 50 students and invited them to a meeting, but plenty more showed up. Students were eager to finish their studies but needed help getting there.
Some of the challenges were textbooks and the rising costs of student accommodation. Sithole said the “odds were completely against them” so he got an apartment in Westwood and any student who needed accommodation close to campus could move in with him. Sithole went on:
“As students didn’t have books I called up everyone I had gone to school within 2006 and collected all their old textbooks. I went to Sandile Ngwabi’s home to raid it and dug up all his books from 2003. His parents simply said ‘Dig in baba. And then have some food before you go’. Then I called up ABASA, AWCA and all the audit firms in KZN and collected books. Thuthu Mbhele was the HR partner at PwC. So I actively stalked her. Same thing with Naeem Asvat at @saica_ca_sa I harassed them until they yielded. And the programme could proceed.”
It was a tight ship to run and buying food for 50 students for the evening and weekend study sessions all added up. Sithole said whatever cash he could find, went towards feeding the squad during sessions, as well as the students who lived in his apartment, and towards buying more books. He was offered a job at Wits in t 2014, but he couldn’t abandon “the squad.” So he negotiated.
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If I left UKZN, the squad would come with me. The class of 2011 had to do Honours in 2014. So I prepared a spreadsheet and sent it to UJ and said 'Here's my baggage, I need them to do Honours here'. I was willing to convince them to repeat third year if need be.— Khaya Sithole (@CoruscaKhaya) December 10, 2018
Because the students had no funding, Sithole feared they would drop out if he left for Wits. Several students were funded through bursaries, and the rest were spread between UKZN, North West University, UNISA, Wits and UJ. He had a group of first-year students who still needed help and refused to sign a contract with Wits unless they were accepted to Wits.
Wits agreed, on condition that they repeat the first year. Sithole refused and prepared “a curriculum comparison to justify that they would be able to survive 2nd year at Wits.” Which they did. Sithole added:
“5 agreed to come with me. Lindani, Harina, Sthe, Tusani and Xolani. The moment they were accepted as Wits students, I started packing my office at UKZN. Those who were in 2nd year would remain at UKZN for third year then come up to Jozi. By the first week of 2014, the squad was now scattered across five universities — Wits, UJ, NWU, UNISA and UKZN. And there was a spreadsheet to keep track of all of them. This was in addition to the new squad I found at Wits.”
The 5 immigrants from UKZN to Wits became 6 when Vusi joined us.— Khaya Sithole (@CoruscaKhaya) December 10, 2018
At the end of the year, 4 of the 6 were in the Top 50 at Wits. And would stay there until they got their Honours degrees.
This is half the Wits squad on graduation day last year.
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When two of his students, Lindani and Harina, got their Master’s degrees at Wits, Sithole “finally felt that [his] job in this world is complete.” He said:
“I remembered where we have been. This one who stalked me on Facebook in 2011 – @EnzoMpanza is now an Investment Banker at the place I started this journey – RMB. It was weird seeing them on stage at Great Hall. I finally met Harina’s mother. And I figured out that her daughter will change the world one day. She has certainly changed my life by allowing me to be part of her journey. On Friday, I went back to the original 2011 spreadsheet.”
Out of the 75 names on the spreadsheet, 69 are CAs today. But the project is not over until they all make it:
“I called up the missing ones last week to remind them about our deal. So I have to soldier on.”
South Africans have since taken to Twitter to thank Sithole for his selfless mission to turn struggling students into Chartered Accountants.
On behalf of SA's black children, ngiyabonga— Ms 'Puo (@dp_dipuo) December 10, 2018
@CoruscaKhaya suffered & still suffering the most for his activism. His courage and tenacity is humbling. When forces of destruction are bent on tarnishing his reputation, our tangible support should be visible and vocal.#IStandwithKhaya— Tembakazi Mnyaka (@zolekam) December 10, 2018
You have done some unimaginable things for young people Khaya. Its up to us reading this to try and help those who are coming through the system to achieve the same if not more.— Mmina Tau (@Reu_100) December 10, 2018
A most inspirational story. Thank you for sharing. Above all, thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do for aspirant black CAs! ????????????????????????— Tsakani Ratsela (@tsakanimspice) December 11, 2018