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The challenge today is not people being uneducated. The greater challenge is that they are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught and not educated enough to question what they have been taught, writes Bonang Mohale

As we continue to examine the fundamental recasting of our own history and begin to come to terms with the fact that ‘the primary affective force and paramount influence in the construction of modern day Black life was not only the commonly cited influx of migrant workers nor tradition but rather the spread of Christianity’, how then do we, as a people describe, define, shape, and tell our own stories?

The making of a impactful and conscientious leader is not too difficult to trace. S/he is not always the most visionary nor more talented than her/his peers nor more aggressive in her/his pursuit of the spotlight. The shift to global recognition happens gradually, over many years of hard work, singularity of purpose, and dogged determination to pursue things that genuinely matter.

What constitutes a life well lived is the embrace of one’s own mortality, the precariousness of life itself and has been man’s fundamental inquiry since time immemorial. A life well lived suggests a general alignment and harmony among body, soul and mind—when what you think, say and do are one and the same—a moment of tranquility as a sound of silence, inner peace, and calm—being left to do what you want—a sense of being your true self, authentic and a innate balance that should be jealously safeguarded.

I have come to know, love, and respect you, Prof Lumkile Wiseman Nkuhlu, as, among others, my President at the BMF, SAICA’s U4M Advocates Movement, and having worked closely with you at the vortex of state capture and KPMG’s turbulence and as a result, I share a vantage point that breeds fondness. You have always used your voice both judiciously and strongly to serve both the work and the cause and have expertly navigated the subtext of anything that is asked of you—have always showed up as a eminent scholar, eloquent, persuasive, forward thinking, legacy shaping, truly profound, amazing, good quality human being—both calm and courageous, nimble of form, sharp of mind, incisive intellect and energetic of spirit, a silverback assembled from clashing parts and conflicting priorities—an inspiring thought leader whom the wellbeing of others is paramount. A bold, conscientious and principled leader—a testament to the power of the single individual standing up for what is right.

Your will, determination, dedication, and courage to succeed are awe inspiring. As we reflect on your rich legacy today, at this moment, in this country, in this context where so many of us dare to hope that joy and peace will prevail, it is crucial to pause and acknowledge that we, collectively have not succeeded in eradicating the legacy of apartheid—that has entrenched the growing economic precarity—this state of persistent insecurity with regard to employment or income—and that the fight against social injustice and inequality still continues to this day.

You are the foremost, highly sought after, influential leader whose impactful work is conducted away from the public gaze. To me and many others, you embody human kindness, connection, and empathy. Your personal journey and story are guided by modesty though globally celebrated. Your humility conceals the magnitude of your truly extensive, demonstrable track record and experience and truly deepens understanding of our journey, our world, and how it informs the greater world—even if it is one that we have to create for ourselves—that the most important story is the story that one tells, not to others but to oneself.

By watching, listening to, inspired by, and being close to you, we have been gifted with strength and imagination. I and many others have, individually, collectively, and severally learned so much! We will forever remain grateful for this singular honour because gratitude lifts our eyes off the things we lack, so we might see, feel, touch, and experience the blessings we already possess—the same way that Bryant McGill reminds us that, ‘you will be blessed the moment you realise you already are’.

Thank you for all these struggles and fights to be seen and heard in the world and demonstrating in deeds, not just in words that when one attends well to one’s character, then one’s reputation will look out for itself. That, like Edwin Elliot, by ‘being yourself you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before’.

You stormed and broke through the gates of this industry much earlier and therefore introduced most of us to a world that we had no knowledge of. Your amazingly successful career, meteoric rise, and ascension into higher office has given most of us a glimpse into a world emblematic of the vast social divides that still persist even to this day. But once you have demonstrated your well earned and much deserved recognition and thereby, seized the opportunity to forge your own rhythm, you refused to feel like you did not belong nor have a say in anything—just there like a recipient.

Amidst a sea of lickspittles too shy to speak up, docile, conforming creatures that can’t even say boo to a goose—born colonised and remained colonised—you always had a viewpoint, a strong perspective, and a mission to both elevate and transform—the fantasy space of the industry imagery which is quite separate to the daily realities and lived experiences of most. Demonstrating beyond any shadow of doubt that opinions and taste are often shaped by the social and political conditions in which one finds oneself.

It is as though, in refusing to play by the industry’s established rule book, you have changed the industry. Much of what is talked about as being needed to make legitimate, relevant, and transform this industry today, has always been part of your story. Even though you have cooperated and collaborated with everyone, you have remained fiercely independent with an uncompromising longing for freedom that seems to have guided much of your trajectory—left to do what you want.

Freedom has always been your North Star. I know for sure that your embodiment as an African has made many other Africans feel represented in an industry that did not see us and largely, still does not. Growing up, you looked, spoke, walked, and behaved in a manner that is very familiar to us. You are the men around us—our fathers and uncles—an unspoken sense of kinship. It meant a lot to our younger self. You were amazing, always have and always will be.

You celebrate African heritage, challenging narratives that are reducing and portraying those without opportunities as victims with no agency and therefore, no ambition. You gave us and many more, the confidence it would later take, to pursue a career in management because we are much more than what we have become.

I know that because I am surrounded by colleagues and I see many more in business that you have personally touched and helped to be prouder of themselves for the way they look, talk, and the way they value their work. Because, we all have a choice when one walks into spaces where we have never been, to either be assimilated into and paraded as the first—made to feel different, rare, and noteworthy on the one hand or on the other hand, one can literally kick down the door and open it up to people that look like one, thereby helping create, nurture, and build more golden people—driven by something much deeper. Precisely because, when you do well, I also do well—when you succeed, I look good. Because we are no more human than when we connect and help others. It is our collective that works well—driven to explore the limits of what we can achieve together and a reminder that, ‘at its purest, helping others is a meeting of the eyes, hearts, and minds rather than the most naked form of mutual back scratching’. Because ‘those that are helping others, are completing Jehovah’s work’.

I take with me rich learnings extracted from your truly exemplary trailblazing. Adages that one will never learn how to command, if one has not first learned how to obey. That if one is ever more fortunate than others, then one must build a longer table, not a taller fence. That the things that one is often waiting and hoping for, tend to arrive at the most unexpected moments. Thank you for imbuing us with the courage to follow our dreams, the persistence to try agaln, the passion for doing what one loves, the ambition to aim higher, the resilience in overcoming obstacles, the humility to learn from others and kindness for both self and others. I just love the way your mind works, am loyal to your integrity and the validity of your work, and eternally grateful to you for being there for me, from the start.

You are among a generation of chartered accountants who not only witnessed but challenged and therefore ushered in a new identity amid radical political transformation. There has always been a big racial disparity in South Africa’s chartered accountancy realm with only 8 610 (17%) of the 51 152 registered chartered accountants being black. That is in stark contrast to the country’s demographics of nearly 81% of South Africans being black. This gap is rooted in our extremely traumatic history. For most of apartheid’s white-minority rule from 1948 to 1994, black citizens were not allowed to become chartered accountants. It took eleven years for Sis’ Nonkululeko Gobodo, the first black woman to qualify in 1987.

Though the profession is now open to all, it is crystal clear that historical disparities still persist. For too long, the opportunity gap in this country has increased inequality and robbed the world of the talents of many brilliant minds. Thank you for leading the charge to help young people find their way past these obstacles.

In the long term, our national higher education system clearly needs fundamental transformation, but while we are still figuring out how to accomplish this transformation, we need to do a lot more, right now, to help students succeed in the system as it exists today. If the long-lasting impact of a person’s life is called legacy, yours continues to be formed while you are alive because you live it, day by day.

The greatest gift that we can bequeath and honour you and your truly immense, valued, and treasured contribution with, is to build, nurture, and grow just one of the ‘Big Five’ accounting firms as black owned, black run, and black managed. Surely 30 years into democracy, this is not only possible but needed if we are going to give meaningful expression to our economic emancipation? When we deliver that, we will complete your unfinished project and ensure that you continue for generations to come—a testimony that has been passed down to the next warriors—fondly remembered long after you have retired. It is the emotions that we will continue to feel when we hear your name—the story that we tell our children as we tuck them into bed and the encouragement, dreams, and hopes they warmly and enthusiastically receive.

From being a political prisoner on Robben Island at the age of nineteen to being the economic adviser to President Thabo Mbeki, you have been, and continue to be, a leading light in inculcating a corporate culture of accountability, ethical business leadership, and the advancement and development of South Africa.

As a pioneer of 48 years in the profession, you continue to play key roles in academia, philanthropy, development, business, and politics. It was only in 1976 (admitted by SAICA in 1977) that you became the first African chartered accountant in South Africa, in later years, you would be elected president of SAICA, serve two terms from April 1998 to April 2000, passionately involved with the development of black accountants and you went on to become a distinguished role model.

During this illustrious career, you would go on to become the Chancellor of the University of Pretoria for 15 years, up until June 2022; serve as chairman of Pan-African Capital Holdings (Pty) Ltd—co-founded with Dr. Iraj Abedian; Kagiso Trust Investments; Metropolitan Limited; Rothschild (SA); Development Bank of Southern Africa and Biden Africa (Pty) Ltd; non-executive director (NED) of Standard Bank; Old Mutual; Tongaat Hullett; BMW; AngloGold Ashanti Limited; Datatec Limited and JCI; appointed the first Chairman of the Council on Higher Education in 1998 to 2002 where you played a major role in the restructuring of Universities and Technikons; served as Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Transkei from 1987 to 1991; chief executive of the Independent Development Trust for three years and chief executive of the Secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) from 2000 to 2005, where you were aptly honoured with the ‘Ordre National de la Légion D’Honneur, Republique Française’ for work of NEPAD in May 2005 and wherein you played a major role in the elaboration of the NEPAD policy framework and in promoting the programme both in Africa and internationally.

You received the Grand Counselor of the Baobab National Award from the President of the Republic of South Africa for your excellent contributions to the African Renaissance through your role in the New NEPAD in April 2008 and in May the same year, was appointed President of the International Organisation of Employers.

You have always demonstrated immense pride in the auditing profession. That is why it came as a great disappointment when the profession was plunged into unprecedented crises when KPMG South Africa came under the corruption spotlight and was regarded as having aided and abetted some of the state capture activities of the Gupta family. This would explain why you took on the role of chairman of KPMG South Africa to help rectify what had unfolded for this 100-year-old, once prestigious firm to become embroiled in state capture, stealing, bribery, and corruption.

We are all still engaged in the revolution, as being a good professional and a ‘clever black’ means being against state capture. Even as you now enjoy your well earned and much deserved leisure time, you have not abandoned your profession. We are eternally grateful to Sis’ Nondima Hazel nee Mahlulo (and your four children, Aqalisile Zola, Unathi Pindiwe, Njongonkulu Manda, and Bandile Lwazi Sabelo) for allowing us to share you with loved ones and the world, and for continuing to firmly stand by your side as you also continue to serve, holding various positions, among others, as a member of the Advisory board of SAICA and the Patron of the Nkuhlu School of Accounting at the University of Fort Hare.

In recognition of your contribution to education, business, and development, you have been bestowed with several awards, including honorary doctorates from the Universities of the Free State, Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Pretoria, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan, Witwatersrand, and Fort Hare; merit awards from the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (NAFCOC), Association for Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA) and the Black Management Forum (BMF); the President of Convocation Medal by the University of Cape Town in June 2004 for outstanding community service and the SAICA Legacy Award for those who have built a legacy that will live on for many generations.

Whose legacy inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more. Your stories will be remembered for decades, etched into the minds and hearts of others. In 2014, Dr Luvuyo Wotshela wrote a book, ‘Wiseman Nkuhlu—a Life of Purpose’, your rich testimonial and in 2020, you deemed it fit to author your own memoir, ‘Enabler or Victim—KPMG SA and State Capture’. Born on the 5th of February 1944 in Upper Mnxe part of the Xhalanga magisterial district in the town of Cala, Eastern Cape and to this day, you still regularly participate as a speaker in international conferences on African Development and corporate governance issues.

Bonang Mohale is the Chancellor of the University of the Free State, former President of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), and Professor of Practice in the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) in the College of Business and Economics.

By Editor