The fund manager-accountant who wants to lift others as she rises
JOHANNESBURG - For Zama Khanyile, the goal is to develop women leaders who innovate lasting solutions.
She says she has a vision to become a great leader in the world. Now she can almost touch that goal.
Khanyile is a chartered accountant and the head of uMnotho Fund, one of the five funds at the National Empowerment Fund (NEF). Her job is to oversee the Women Empowerment Fund which provides between R250 000 and R75 000 000 for women entrepreneurs to improve their participation in the mainstream economy.
Khanyile says her job is to make entrepreneurs successful and thus curb rising unemployment. She says sponsorship, not mentorship, can propel the transformation agenda in SA.
“I am the beneficiary of sponsorship, through AWCA (African Women Chartered Accountants) networks,” says Khanyile.
It has been a long journey from the dusty streets of Umlazi in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, to the glittering lights of Johannesburg. Besides heading uMnotho Fund, Khanyile is also the president of AWCA, where she heads a board of directors dedicated to the transformation of the accounting profession in which black women are underrepresented.
Khanyile says AWCAhas has a responsibility to develop black African women accountants to key decision-making positions in South Africa.
“AWCA is important as AIC (African, Indian and Coloured) women are still underrepresented when compared to the total population of CAs (SA). When corporates claim they don’t know where to find these black female CAs (SA) to occupy leadership positions, we refute that with the database we have developed,” she says.
“My role Is to grow the impact and elevate the work of the AWCA.”
She says much as she had to work extremely hard at every opportunity she earned, she still understands that access to advancement opportunities in business, has more to do with influential people who can open doors knowing your qualities and expertise than who you know. “Therefore, relationship management is pivotal,” Khanyile says.
Khanyile also sees the NEF as another vehicle to advance the broad-based black economic empowerment of women beyond box ticking to enable women to lead businesses that are key to the economy of the country. In her journey to corporate leadership in SA, she says she has consistently been driven by her conviction that the past does not determine the future because success is measured by the distance you have created between where you began and where you are now.
Khanyile matriculated at Fourways High School after the family moved to Johannesburg in 1996. She says this opened her to more opportunities and helped her establish some of her current business networks. In KwaZulu-Natal, for example, she never heard of chartered accounting. But with her horizon now opened she knew she wanted to study it to lift other.
This led her to studying accounting at the Rand Afrikaans Universiteit (now, The University of Johannesburg ), which led her to her current career as a chartered accountant later.
“I fell in love with the relevance of the subjects I was doing and found myself completing my undergraduate and Honours degree in record time,” says Khanyile.
Her first job was at auditing firm KPMG where she moved from being an articled clerk to becoming an audit manager. It was then that she discovered that her passion lay in development finance.
She left KPMG for the Industrial Development Corporation where she was appointed a deal-maker in its agro-processing unit, responsible for structuring deals across South Africa and on the African continent.
Ultimately she joined the National Empowerment Fund as a fund manager providing acquisition, start-up, and expansion funding from R2m up to R75m. “My team currently consists of 14 people, 9 of them are female and 7 of them are qualified chartered accountants,” she says.
What delights her is to see possible black industrialists, especially black women, “sitting on the other side of the deal negotiating table”.
Her typical week at the NEF is comprised of meetings with potential clients requiring funding, making decisions about the funding instruments, reviewing legal agreements, ensuring that all the conditions precedent to funding have been met.
“I’m involved in the entire investment process,’ says Khanyile.
Khanyile describes her work as contributing to job creation due to the investments in black-owned businesses the NEF, through he funds she oversees, has injected over the years.
With the country’s unemployment rate sitting at 29.1 percent she sees herself as an enabler of entrepreneurs to curb it.
Khanyile conducts school visits, career conferences, pre-board exam workshops and oversee the student chapters across eleven universities in SA, as well manage certified programmes under the AWCA Leadership Academy.
She says the participation of women in business strengthens the quality of executive and non-executive director level decision-making.
“Having sufficient women leadership is therefore a business imperative. The absence of women in leadership is a serious threat to the success of businesses,” Khanyile says.
Khanyile has been AWCA president for a year.
She counts her greatest achievement as being entrusted with the opportunity to lead others on a journey that she hopes will transform SA enough to extensively increase the number and influence of black female accountants.
But, she says, being black and female, comes with many challenges such as prejudices as people pre-judge her as incompetent or a token, in spite of her advanced skills, extensive experience and acute competencies.
“Yes, I have been blocked from opportunities, moreso, for being black,” she says.
But still persevered toward success in her profession.
She is currently reading Boardroom Dancing by Anglo American chairwoman Nolitha Fakude.
“The book encourages me to continue doing my part in advancing the transformation agenda,” says Khanyile.