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An Account Of Poverty And Profit

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It’s a scorching day in Johannesburg when we meet Busisiwe Mdletshe, clad in a chic knee-length dress and black heels. At 35 years old, she has a resume that would take as many pages to list her achievements.

Mdletshe owns a swanky accounting firm in the city and has a corporate profile few can dream of. But it was hardship that made her what she is today.

The eldest of eight children and born to a factory worker father and a mother who worked as a domestic helper in a small village called Engonyameni, south of Durban, in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, Mdletshe grew up poor, very poor.

Very early she knew her ticket out of poverty was to stay focused at school.

Encircled by rolling hills, acacia trees, gurgling waterfalls and natural forests, the idyllic landscape of Engonyameni could have made anyone laidback about their dreams.

Not her. Mdletshe today leads her own company, BtmtCapital, which specializes in accounting and tax advisory services. Her focus is to ensure full tax compliance. She inspects the tax impact of investment and retirement decisions and also looks at the tax and foreign exchange effects of offshore investments.

Prior to starting her own company, Mdletshe served as tax specialist and auditor at South African Revenue Services (SARS), where she led a team of investigators.

“Having gained experience from Mercantile Bank and SARS, I realized there was a niche in the market. We needed to provide a service to those who evaded tax, without intention, but [for] lack of understanding [of] compliance,’’ says Mdletshe.

Her most recent achievements include a radio slot with Metro FM and Nongoma FM, where she offers finance and investment tips.

Although Mdletshe is now immersed in the high-powered world of business and living the sophisticated city life, she says she will never forget her roots.

“When I work at my company and earn profit, I get happy, but when I see the foundation bringing change to the youth, I get satisfied,’’ says Mdletshe of  her BusiM Foundation, an initiative she says was inspired by a return visit to her hometown and the schools she attended that pushed her to strive for success.

“In my village, there are a lot of people who would pass matric but won’t pursue their studies further, due to poverty limitations and lack of funding for university. As a result, they end up having babies or get married or attract diseases or get involved in drugs.”

Her own life was far from perfect. Mdletshe’s parents were never married and lived separately.

“I was constantly moving between relatives and that motivated me to remain focused at school.”

After finishing matric, Mdletshe secured a place at university to study accounting, but couldn’t enrol for lack of money.

This was until her stepmother advised her father to secure an early retirement from his factory job and withdraw money from his pension fund to settle her university fees. Her father, stepmother and cousins joined hands to fund Mdletshe’s education. And this despite the fact that there were seven other siblings to feed.

“I was frustrated a lot but that did not demotivate me, I still knew that in order for me to get out of that situation, I needed to make sure I do well and get my degree,” she says.

Mdletshe obtained her bachelor’s degree in accountancy, auditing and taxation from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and followed it up with a couple of postgraduate degrees.

Going forward, Mdletshe wishes to support the Department of Education to ensure pupils who achieve the targeted pass rates pursue their dreams at the tertiary level.

She aims to host career expos every year where professionals from institutions can offer guidance to pupils. And the first of many initiatives towards her vision began in April 2015, when a number of academic and business stakeholders assembled in Engonyameni in support.

“For me, I saw us breaking poverty in that area,” says Mdletshe.

The foundation has raised up to R40 million ($2.5 million) worth of bursaries through its partnerships and has awarded top achievers in the KwaZulu-Natal region. Mdletshe had the mind to work hard. The millions followed.

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