Johannesburg - Tsakani Ratsela spent holidays as a 9-year-old behind the till in her parents’ shop, learning the value of hard work and service.
Now she watches over the stewardship of the nation’s funds, juggling being deputy auditor-general with running marathons.
Ratsela, 38, was promoted to the position last month, taking over from Kimi Makwetu, who was appointed auditor-general in December.
Ratsela grew up in Soshanguve, Pretoria, finished school at St Andrew’s School for Girls in Senderwood, Joburg, then studied at the University of Cape Town.
She became a chartered accountant almost by accident after her father, a retailer and lawyer, urged her to do a BCom instead of law. “Being a daddy’s girl I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” she laughed.
Holiday jobs while at university introduced her to the world of accounting.
“My parents were retailers so I was working behind a till from age 9. Holidays were about work. I thought this could be quite interesting and different to do.”
She started university in 1994 in an era when Nonkululeko Gobodo, now the chair of SizweNtsalubaGobodo, was the only black woman in South Africa to have qualified as a chartered accountant.
“She dared to do it for all of us. So I thought, well I’m going to do it too,” said Ratsela.
She has never regretted her career choice: “What I have consistently looked for are opportunities for me to contribute to a better society, to do things that would have an impact on the lives of others in a positive way.”
Ratsela said she had a privileged upbringing, which created the responsibility to make a meaningful contribution to society; she emphasised hard work and passion for the job.
It is a work ethos that has taken her to the top.
The auditor-general’s office has been around for 103 years and Ratsela is the first woman to reach as high as deputy auditor-general.
“I view it as a privilege but a responsibility for me: I have to do well,” she said.
“Our organisation, I think I can proudly say, is leading the way in terms of transformation,” she said, pointing out that many of the auditor-general’s business units now employed a majority of women staff and some of the big units were run by women.
But as she blazes a trail for others, she mentors the new generation.
For many years she has been involved in helping transform the sector and is a past president of the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa.
There is an ethos of professionalism, independence and hard work in the auditor-general’s office that Ratsela is keen to build on.
She speaks with respect of her colleagues – “the passion that many of our auditors have for this country, for making sure that government runs better” – which keeps them going in the face of the long struggle to improve government accounting behaviour, and the auditor-general’s “strong and capable” leadership team.
Ratsela has been with the auditor-general for two years, as the national leader of audit services.
She has leadership experience in the private and public sector; her CV includes time at PricewaterhouseCoopers, WorldWide Capital, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, Izingwe Holdings, and the Energy and Water Seta.
Her new position will involve more focus on support and strategy in the auditor-general’s office.
Ratsela is adamant it must continue to uphold its high standards of technical excellence and wants to build on that by encouraging professional auditors who act as partners to encourage good governance and a better society.
“So for me, my focus is on ensuring we that we’ve got people who are able do that, to understand that more is required of us.”
Makwetu has a seven-year term and Ratsela’s is five years.
They are planning to increase the impact of the auditor-general’s office.
Her desk has two in-trays – one from her last job and one for her new job.
On top of the piles are the reports for local government which have just been audited.
“I’m dealing with them with both hats on.”
She finds time for the church and for jogging with her husband.
“We’re those people who are pounding the pavements before dawn and on the weekends. It helps with managing stress levels and keeping energy levels high,” she said.
Watch out for Ratsela at the Two Oceans marathon later this month.
“I’m having a ball at the office of the auditor-general,” she said.
“It resonates with so much of who I am and the type of professional I want to be. It resonates with the things that are important to me. So I’m not fixed on any other destination. I’d like to continue to do good work in this office.” - The Star