Showing way up and out
Achieving against all odds and passionate about inspiring others are this businesswoman’s life. Liz Clarke finds out what makes her tick
SURROUNDEDby rolling hills, acacia trees, tumbling waterfalls and natural forests, Engonyameni, just 30km south of Durban, has some idyllic scenery.
But concealed within its picturesque landscape are small shanty villages where poverty and deprivation prevail.
A particular homestead, tucked away in a rural valley, far from the bustle of city life, was once home to a thirtysomething businesswoman, fast becoming one of South Africa’s most upwardly mobile movers and shakers.
Ultra-smart, business-chic Busisiwe Mdletshe today leads her own company in Joburg, Btmt Capital, dealing in accounting, tax and advice.
Her focus is to ensure full tax compliance and examine the tax impact of investment and retirement decisions. She also looks at the tax and foreign exchange implications of offshore investments.
Recently acclaimed by the online publication Inspired Africa, Mdletshe was mentored by internationally acclaimed businesswoman Phuti Mahanyele, the reigning Forbes Africa Businesswoman of the Year.
It would be understandable, immersed as she is, in the highpowered world of big business, to forget her KZN roots and embrace the sophistication of a large city lifestyle.
“But I can never forget the people, my family and friends I grew up with,” she says, “even in difficult times. They remain part of my heart and soul.”
So much so that running parallel with her impressive career path is a mission that gives “real meaning” to her life.
Mdletshe is founder and leader of the BusiM Foundation, an initiative she says was motivated by a return visit to her birthplace and the classrooms that inspired her to strive for greater things.
“Living in a poor community, like the one in which I grew up, often limits your perceptions of what is possible. High schools strive for excellent results, but few pupils make it to tertiary level. I hope my foundation can change that.”
Her personal experience of growing up in a resource-poor area is integrally woven into that drive for change.
Raised by a factory worker, Basil Khekhe Majozi, and domestic worker mother, Joyce Sholiphi Sibisi, Mdletshe is the eldest of eight siblings.
“My parents never married so I did not grow up in a proper family set-up with both parents,” she says. “I was constantly moving between relatives. That motivated me to remain focused at school as I considered that my ticket to get out of poverty.”
She secured a university entry matric pass, but her father could not afford to enroll her at the University of KZN.
“I had a wonderful stepmother, who advised my father to take early retirement from his factory job to withdraw from his pension fund and settle my varsity fees. My dad and my stepmother’s family all joined hands in funding my higher education”
She admits, however, that a lack of funds led to her concen- tration levels at varsity deteriorating. “But I tried to keep my eye on the ball,” she says.
Notwithstanding the constraints, Mdletshe obtained her bachelor of accountancy, auditing and taxation from UKZN.
Financial management (Pretoria University) and financial and criminal investigations (IRS-USA) were among postgraduate degrees that followed.
Her long-term aim is to support the Department of Education to ensure pupils who reach target pass rates pursue their dreams at tertiary level.
“Our vision is to groom pupils who can be entrepreneurs. Most goods are made in China, Japan, California, France etcetera. We hardly find anything made in SA, because of a lack of technology. We want to promote IT as an extra subject in schools.”
She aims to hold career week events every year where professionals from various institutions can advise pupils on career choices.
The first steps on that journey began on April 16 when a number of academic, commerce and business stakeholders converged on Engonyameni in support of Mdletshe’s education mission.
“Pupils need to be encouraged and inspired to become achievers post- matric.”
Noble ideas are often far removed from reality and Mdletshe gives a wry smile recounting the growing pains that accompany the setting up of a non-profit foundation.
“But I thought, be brave. I approached Tongaat-Hulett with my career guidance ideas, hoping and praying they would come along with me. They agreed to assist, which was beyond exciting.”
Soon more organisations came to the party, including Bowman Gilfillan, the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants, UKZN schools of medicine and education, Mangosuthu University, Naidu Consulting Engineers, SA Property Charter and the Department of Public Works.
“I think this tiny village has, for the first time, seen the possibility that accountants; actuaries and lawyers could come from their area.
“This will be an annual event, teaching young people to make the right choices in life. In 2016 we will not only focus on KZN but will be providing career guidance and financial assistance to pupils in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo.”
But she accepts challenges remain. “Most young people in a village like mine