by Lloyd Lekgau

A PILLAR OF STRENGTH

Teaching and bettering governance at local government level

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When you train learners from impoverished backgrounds all across the country, you learn valuable life lessons. You deal with real issues; people’s hopes and fears, their struggles and their victories. So while Sasolburg’s Caroline Mapulanga’s official job description is that of facilitator at Accounting Technicians of South Africa (AAT[SA]), unofficially, she is a cheerleader and a pillar of strength for the learners she’s encountered every day in her six years as an AAT(SA) trainer.

Mapulanga, considers herself blessed. “My work has given me the rare privilege of travelling across the country, being exposed to Ubuntu and interacting with brilliant young people who I believe are South Africa’s future accountants,˝ she says.

The journey begins

Mapulanga’s journey with AAT (SA) began in 2010 when she was hired by S&T School of Accounting to train 60 learners on the Local Government Accounting Certificate in the Western Cape—an AAT(SA) certificate specifically aimed at those employed in a financial role at local government. It was a baptism by fire as she was simultaneously training 12 learners on the same AAT(SA) learnership at Ekurhuleni Metro.

“My Western Cape class was a mixed crowd with very different abilities,” says Mapulanga. “Some really struggled. They doubted themselves and my biggest challenge was convincing them that they could make.”

The course, itself, takes a big commitment on the learners’ part. Many of them are moms and dads with their own worries aside from attending the weekly classes and passing the course. “We would meet at different municipalities to make it fair for everyone. One month classes would be held in Ceres and the following month they would be held in Tulbagh or another town,” says Mapulanga.

AAT(SA) is the premier professional body in South Africa dedicated to the education, development, regulation and support of accounting technicians, which it does by raising the competence and professionalism of members through continuing professional development. So it comes as no surprise that its Local Government course is intense and covers a lot of ground in each month’s four-day session. But, says Mapulanga, the learners’ worked hard and their hard work paid off. Her first batch in the Western Cape and Gauteng completed five units of study material: covering standard procedures like recording income and issuing receipts, to more involved processes including sourcing and matching documents as well as resolving discrepancies. Processes that, if well run, make a municipality’s billing system effective and keep ratepayers happy.

Also surprising was how many of Mapulanga’s students found Professional Ethics particularly interesting. “They were intrigued at whistle blowing. They felt empowered in knowing that it was acceptable to report corruption.” Others took on the challenge of operating a computer for the first time. “Some worked in rural municipalities where there was only one computer for the whole office,” Mapulanga continues.

Ubuntu in action

In 2013, Mapulanga was contracted by Sesto, a recruitment agency, to train 60 learners from North West municipalities on AAT(SA)’s Local Government Advanced Accounting Certificate (LGAAC). The training was sponsored by the Premier’s Office in the North West. Since then, Mapulanga has trained learners at Flavius Mareka TVET College for a BANKSETA project and on several other projects.

In her six years as a trainer, Mapulanga says she has been surprised by the extent at which AAT(SA) learners care about each other’s wellbeing and that there is a spirit of Ubuntu among them.

“In some cases, the course sponsors only paid for breakfast and dinner, but lunch is not provided. In the North West, my class of learners pooled their money so there was enough for everyone to have lunch. This gesture really touched me as everyone has so little money at the smaller municipalities but they are still happy to share the little that they have.

“There was also a language issue with several learners and they managed by helping each other. Some learners were Sotho speakers who were not fluent in English. Their class mates would translate the lessons to help them. I think this contributed to the high pass rates,” she says.

Inspiring others

To date, all the learners Mapulanga has come into contact with have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some of their stories and their strength of character leave a lasting impression on Mapulanga. For example, she talks about a young woman, Motshedisi Julia Tlhapi, who recently completed the AAT(SA) course at Level 4 and is ‘work ready’. Motshedisi is an orphan and is raising her three sisters and a child of her own. The young family lives in an informal settlement in Vereeniging.

“Motshedisi was brilliant because she never gave up on herself,” says Mapulanga. Motshedisi has needed to be very strong in the face of adversity, when at times she felt utterly hopeless. “None of us are working,” says Motshedisi. It is not for want of trying. She is seeking any employment within the finance and accounting professions.

“During my course we had no food at home. I told my sisters that I was putting my career first and we would just have to get through each day,” says Motshedisi. But with this burden on her shoulders, Motshedisi was unable to concentrate on her studies. She failed one subject four times.

“I was the only one tat was quiet in class. Then I decided, ‘what is the use’, and I stopped attending classes. But Mapulanga encouraged me when I wanted to quit. She called me and told me I could do this. I passed the last unit of my level four course in June this year,” she says proudly.

Another success story is that of Mpho Mofokeng from Johannesburg. “He was the oldest in the class as there is a cut-off age for bursaries,” states Mapulanga. He had done many courses and was frustrated as he felt he had nothing to show for it. Mapulanga took him under her wing and prayed with him before each class. Today, he earns a good salary as an employee at Massmart.

“My work is exciting,” says Mapulanga. Financial status and age are not limitations to her students. Mapulanga once taught a 60 year old who worked in the Accountancy Department at Wits University and she was the sharpest in the class.

Seeing life in a different light

Meeting young people like Motshedisi and Mpho has grown Mapulanga on a personal level. “I am more grateful and more compassionate,” Mapulanga reflects. “Little things that used to bother me don’t anymore. I see life from a different perspective. Sometimes prayer is the only thing that keeps me going because the feedback from learners on their circumstances can sometimes be draining, because I can’t do anything to help.”

It seems that her name, Caroline, which means ‘strong’ in Italian, is indeed an apt one.

The only drawback of constant travelling is being away from her husband and children. Fortunately technology enables longer chats through WhatsApp.

Mapulanga recently relocated from Johannesburg to Sasolburg. She is enjoying less of a commute and precious extra time at home in the mornings. Her next goal is doing her PhD in Accounting. “Luckily my children are completing their studies soon, so that will be my long walk to freedom,” she told BBQ with a chuckle.

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