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Overcoming barriers: black African chartered accountants in 1990s South Africa
conference contributionposted on 2002-01-01, 00:00 authored by Bruce Clayton, T Hammond
This paper examines the experiences of black Africans in South Africa who became Chartered Accountants in the 1990s. Building on previous work on marginalized groups within the accounting profession, the study relies on interviews with 22 of those who overcame steep educational, economic, racial, cultural, and political obstacles to join a profession that had fewer than 1% black Africans as members. The interviews indicate that those black Africans who did manage to become CAs in the 1990s shared many common characteristics and experiences. They and their families placed a high value on education and made tremendous sacrifices to meet the requirements to earn the CA certification. Many overcame extreme poverty in their childhoods and attended poorly equipped schools. All were exceptionally accomplished academically, most qualifying for scholarships offered only to the very top black African students in the country. Most faced educational disruptions due to boycotts and political protests that shut down schools and many black universities in the years immediately prior to the bringing down of the apartheid regime. All faced racial discrimination in housing and education. Few had ever met a chartered accountant before enrolling in university; many had never heard of the certification until that point. In the 1990s when they entered some of the major firms to meet their training requirements, they were typically not given the same opportunities as their white peers. Now that they have become Chartered Accountants, and the government has changed and instituted affirmative action policies, most find that they are often offered jobs outside of public accounting. Still only composing about one percent of all chartered accountants, in a country that is 75% black African, most believed that the main road towards overcoming this disparity is through radical efforts to equalize educational opportunities in South Africa across racial lines. Most make professional decisions based at least in part on the opportunities a given position offers towards contributing to the black community.