How an accounting teacher has transformed thousands of lives, empowering poor South Africans

Professor Amanda Dempsey has been lauded as one of the pioneers who shaped the accounting profession in South Africa. SAICA’s AccountancySA Magazine recently featured her as one of the people who have changed the profession, citing a passion for the industry that spurred her on to do all she could to ensure it is world class. In particular, she has been at the front of efforts to help empower individuals from poorer communities through education. In this interview, hear how Prof Dempsey has dedicated her life to using a subject that many regard as boring and, perhaps unglamorous, to uplift many South Africans – with the positive effects rippling through families. – Jackie Cameron

Professor Amanda Dempsey on her background:

I was brought up in a very middle class home, very naive. I didn’t know what was going on in the world, but I loved accounting at school. Interestingly enough, we had to write aptitude tests. When the inspector saw mine, he said, ‘oh, you’re good in math, you’re clever. You must become a chartered accountant’. That was the first time I’ve ever heard of it.

I enrolled at the old Rand Afrikaans University – that is today the University of Johannesburg – for the BCom accounting degree. I loved every minute. I was brought up very close to where the campus is, and I saw the campus being built. There was no option. You just go to the closest university. There’s no luxury of going to other universities. I actually walked to university every day and I just loved the RAU from the start.

I’m now at the University of Johannesburg for 36 years. [For] the first 10 years it was a pure white university – all Afrikaans. The next ten years, we transgressed into English. That was a big transformation for us. Since 2004, we are the University of Johannesburg and we cater for middle class South Africans. 

On empowering people through accounting:

 It is so necessary and that’s what I’m so proud of – of UJ and even of myself  – for moving the route from being 100% Afrikaans to this all inclusive university. We’ve got students from Quintile one and two and we’ve got students that come from private schools, of course. 

But these students coming from Quintile one and two – they don’t sit around the dinner table and even discuss something like a crumb – not often. There is such an opportunity for a lecturer to open this world for them. This is absolutely my passion.

On why accounting transforms lives:

Accountants become leaders. If you have a look – and I haven’t got the exact stats now – at the companies at the JSE, I think something like 65% of all the CEOs are chartered accountants in South Africa. The chartered accountant qualification – the education part of that is so strong – [that] these students come out with such amazing skills. Then [in] the three years where they have to do their learnership, just forms them. They come out as such rounded people.

On the effects of the South African schooling system:

This is very difficult. This is why we do math as a first year course. We kind of cover all math from school – plus more emphasis on the math that we really need in accounting. We need to do a lot of catch up. The thing about the University of Johannesburg and its lecturers, they’ve got a care for students that you won’t believe. We really put in a big effort for them. Even the subjects that are not present from our department or our school – like maths – we are so involved with the lecturers there. We tell them this is what we want the students to do. This is how we want it done, because we’ve really got a nature of caring. In the end, we want all the students to pass.

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