Accountants ditch number crunching for paddles  

A trip to the Amazon has proved that the trajectory of climate change may lie in the hands of chartered accountants’ reporting of businesses. 

David Attenborough and Bear Grylls had nothing on a pair of Wits accountancy professors as they took to the Rio Madeira, the Amazon’s largest and most important tributary on a month-long trek.   

Wits University’s accountancy professors Kurt Sartorius (73) and Wayne van Zijl (33), along with Sartorius’s son, Benn Sartorius (44), headed for Brazil on July 1, 2022 and finished with great effort by July 26, touching back down on South African soil on July 29. The aim of their 1 100km canoe journey was to raise awareness about the business relevance of climate change among corporates and raise funding for high impact research and reforestation initiatives. 

“As accountants, we are the storytellers of a business performance and position,” said Van Zijl. Usually, businesses that are not environmentally friendly have large profit margins, compared to those who are more environmentally conscious, he added. This is because of the additional costs.  

If these costs are not reported, society judges only by the profit. This disincentivises environmentally sustainable behavior if companies cannot report holistically. Accountants can prevent climate change by developing holistic reporting technology which would single out environmentally friendly companies. Raising funding for this development was one of the aims of the trip.   

The senior Sartorius’s journey was a 50-year reunion with Rio Madeira, and a way to highlight the changes that occurred over half a century, as he re-paddled his 1972 route. Benn Sartorius said this is not their first adventure, “he and I have done many other trips together to Peru and elsewhere [but this one] was special.” Van Zijl saw it as an opportunity to finally join his revered lecturer from his university days on one of his “infamous professor Kurt Indiana Jones Sartorius” excursions. 

Wits professors Kurt Sartorius and Wayne van Zijl together with Benn Sartorius took a 1 100km trip down the Rio Madeira to try bring awareness and raise funds for climate change initiatives. Photo: Wayne van Zijl

The experience was indeed rewarding but also extremely “unpleasant” said Van Zijl. The younger Sartorius called the trip “brutal”. The team paddled through a tough terrain of low currents and extremely hot days, clocking between 50km to 60km daily through the two-kilometer-wide river.  

When they were not on the water, they were on the muddy and insect infested land, where camp was set up by 6pm to avoid being attacked by mosquitos. Massive rainstorms, language barriers and scary characters along the river were all in a day’s work for this crew. 

The trip was a collaborative initiative funded by Wits and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and formed part of  Wits’s centenary campaign.  

Professor Nirupa Padia, head of the school of accountancy told Wits Vuvuzela that, ”[The school] is extremely proud of this accomplishment by [its professors]. It is unheard of for accountants to be so adventurous and to go to this extent to make a difference on climate change and sustainability. It is inspiring for the staff and students to know that accountants too, can help save the planet.”  

FEATURED IMAGE: Father and son have taken many trips together but this one was special. Van Zijl was ”amazed at the relationship”. Photos: Wayne van Zijl

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Accountants get a new jobs portal

A new career management portal was launched in Johannesburg today with the intention of matchmaking graduates with prospective employers.

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants SAICA launched their new jobs portal in the hope that the platform will address the difficulties people experience in finding work and managing their careers in today’s tough economic circumstances. CEO Matsobane Matlwa says he hopes the facility will help bring qualified jobs seekers and businesses who seek skills together.

Career Suite is an online career and talent management platform for accounting and finance professionals and graduates.  SAICA’s Chief Information Officer Rakesh Beekum explained that subscription to Career Suite is free, and open to all accounting, audit, tax and finance professionals participating in all levels of finance and business whether they are SAICA members or not.

Beekum explained “Once you’ve registered with a Career Suite profile, you will have access to a range of career development tools.” Graduates will be able to access articles and videos on managing their career, managing talent effectively and managing their performance. They will also be able to access mentors and coaches through the portal as well as conduct competency and psychometric assessments.

The portal offers graduates the opportunity to make the maximum impact on potential employers by not only being able to upload a detailed CV but also a photo and  video. According to Beekum the portal will teach graduates how to sell themselves in 30 seconds. He said “We’ve also thought of making CV’s sexier with the formats and themes we’ve made available.”

The Career Suite portal will be available in mobile format with an application you can download on iPhone and Android operating smart phones.  An application for BlackBerry is not yet available but according to Beekum SAICA this should be available sometime in the near future.

 

To eat or not to eat the cow: That is the question  

As the world creeps closer to climate crisis D-day, will a moo-ve to a plant-based diet really make a difference 

Old MacDonald had a farm, Ee i ee i oh… And on his farm he had some cows, Ee i ee i oh. With drastic effects on land here, and drastic effects on air there… Here some CO2, there some methane too, everywhere a moo-moo. Old MacDonald had a farm, Ee i ee i oooh.

Nursery rhymes, they say, have hidden meanings. They are a form of satire; folk songs used to tell, subversively, tales of historical events and the (often) bad people who brought them on.  Are these going to be the songs we share with the children of our questionable future? The truth is, no run-on line or rhyming couplet will ever be able to depict the devastation we see today in the throes of climate change

There can be no denying that planet earth is on fire. Eye-witness accounts of the devastation caused by the crisis are becoming more numerous by the day. Floods, cyclones, tornadoes, extreme weather patterns, famine, drought and increasing species extinction are all in evidence. In 2022 we are living in what climate scientists decades ago painted as a worst-case scenario.

To the average person, assuming responsibility in tackling the issue can be overwhelming. Something every individual on the planet shares is the need for food. What people are consuming, however, has and will continue to have a disastrous effect. It is here the solution may lie. If every individual can take responsibility for their eating habits and switch to a more climate-friendly diet, a real difference might be viable.

“I do not think the answer is in getting the big guys to change. People need to stop being passive consumers,” says food systems researcher and business strategist Michele Sohn. Therefore one must ask:  ”To eat the cow, or not to eat the cow?”

Why the cow? For Old MacDonald, back in pre-industrial days, cattle and other livestock used for food may not have been the biggest issue, but in the 21st century they seem to be a leading cause of climate change.  A 2009 study by Scientific American concluded: “Worldwide meat production (beef, chicken and pork) emits more atmospheric greenhouse gases than do all forms of global transportation or industrial processes.” A study published in 2013 in the South African Journal of Animal Science said, “Cattle are a major source of methane emissions from the livestock sector in South Africa, contributing approximately 72.6% of the total livestock greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The livestock greenhouse effect occurs in two ways. The first is in their feed, which requires year-round cultivation of land. This means trees and grasses that absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) are not given a chance to be grown. The second is the methane released by the animals in their waste and as they digest their food.  

The more humans consume these animals and their products, the greater the demand to raise and farm them, which leads to higher need for land. In a 2018 study by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek, an estimation of emission per serving of different foods was made, and the results were staggering. Beef has the biggest carbon footprint, while non-animal products such as beans and nuts seem to have little to no emission. 

conducted a two-week experiment that tracked emissions from vegans, vegetarians and omnivores. The results revealed that: vegan CO2e emissions per week were 9.9kg (equivalent to 39.6km driven in a petrol-powered car, or 1 204 smartphones charged); vegetarian CO2e emissions per week were 16.9kg (67.4km driven in a petrol-powered car, or 2 056 smartphones charged); and omnivore CO2e emissions per week were 48.9kg (194.7km driven in a petrol-powered car, or 5 948 smartphones charged).

Software developer and vegan Hanno Brink told Wits Vuvuzela, “I always used to think vegans were people who ‘cannot face the real world’, but I now realise I was the one not facing the brutal reality of the consequences of my actions.”

It seems this food choice is attached to a lot more than some animal-loving form of protest. The diet holds real benefits environmentally, financially and nutritionally, but how viable is it in South Africa?  

There has been a rise in vegan culture in South Africa over the past few years and plant-based brands are pulling in significant numbers in the South African market. South Africa is one of the top 30 countries where veganism is most popular, according to Google trends. According to Uber Eats, the country is fifth largest in the world in vegan takeaway orders. 

A 2021 study conducted in the journal of Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems found the likelihood of consumers in South Africa adopting plant-based and cultivated meat as a pathway to a healthy, sustainable and equitable food supply was quite high. Sixty percent of born-frees, 62% of millennials and 53% of Gen X were highly likely to purchase plant-based meat. Fifty-five percent of born-frees, 55% of millennials and 46% of Gen X were highly likely to purchase cultivated meat. The study concluded, “Both plant-based and cultivated meat could be viable market-based options for improving the food system in South Africa.”

From an economic perspective, being vegan is not so straight-forward. In South Africa food security is a daunting issue. According to a 2020 report by Stats SA, nearly 23,6% of South Africans had moderate to severe food insecurity, while almost 14,9% experienced severe food insecurity.  Jessica Lazar, a registered dietitian at The Green Dietitian, told Wits Vuvuzela, “If someone is food insecure and they are vulnerable to malnutrition, they do not have a choice over what they eat; they can only eat what is available and affordable to them. We need to work to combat food security and malnutrition before we can have the privilege to decide what type of diet we want to live by, because it really is a privilege.”

Veganism has been through a bit of a greenwash over the past few decades. What was initially a clean and relatively cheap lifestyle turned into “a trend that companies and brands jumped on and used as a marketing tool”. Lazar says a lot of products are expensive, but a basic vegan diet made up of grains, fruits, vegetables and oils is not expensive; it is actually cheaper than animal products.

“I always used to think vegans were people who ‘cannot face the real world’, but I now realise I was the one not facing the brutal reality of the consequences of my actions.”

Nutrition-wise, Lazar says veganism can be a helpful diet meeting all nutritional needs. “I do not think it’s valid to say veganism is the healthiest or is healthier than any other diet patterns, but it is among the healthiest,” she says. “Cutting down animal products and replacing them with more plant food is a healthy way to live.”

Dalya Gerson, also a registered dietitian, disagrees. “You are not really living a healthy lifestyle being a vegan because you are losing out on the key nutrients (specifically B12, which can be found only in animal products, fortified foods and supplements) that you should be getting,” Gerson says. ”I would not necessarily say a vegan diet is healthier than a Mediterranean diet.”

Arabella Parkinson, who has a master’s in sustainable development and is a food consultant and vegan chef, told Wits Vuvuzela, “I am not an advocate of a fully vegan diet, because a lot of the time people tend to sacrifice the healthier side of things because veganism is so strict, people tend to eat junk food based on the fact that its vegan rather than it being healthy. It is a very strict way of eating, and to do it properly you need a lot of time, energy resources and access to a variety of healthy, good food.”

Most of the people Wits Vuvuzela spoke to mentioned culture as a point of contention. Food is an emotional aspect of people’s lives and it is often difficult for people to change the way they eat, especially when it is embedded in indigenous cultures, says Parkinson. Lazar adds, “We need to respect culture specifically around food. Usually meats are used for celebrations, not daily consumption. A solution could be if we say, ‘change your daily diets and leave the meat for the bigger events’.” She notes, however, that a plant-based diet is nothing new to many Africans, who for centuries have been living off fruit- and vegetable-bearing lands.

From an agricultural perspective, Heinz Meissner, an adviser to the dairy and meat industries, told Mail & Guardian in a 2019 article that South Africa is complex when it comes to production of fruit and vegetables. “Just 12% of the country has the right mixture of soil and water to grow crops, whereas livestock can live on marginal land,” he says. A lot of water is mostly used for high-value crops such as grapes, citrus, avocados, nuts and blueberries, and these are usually exported overseas. Meissner says the resources needed for optimal crop growth that would suit veganism throughout the country ”will not be used for grains, vegetables and fruit production to feed the population”.  

The department of agriculture also seems to side with the meat. In June 2022 it threatened the vegan industry with a ban and seizure of all foodstuffs not in line with Agricultural Product Standards Act regulations. This includes that if it is not processed meat in a packet, it cannot be labelled as such. This caused a stir, as renaming products would have been economically crippling to producers, Daily Maverick reported.   

South Africa’s relationship with the meat industry is very complicated, says Parkinson. “The meat and dairy industries are huge and subsidised and have a lot of bargaining power,” she says. In a 2022 op-ed for Daily Maverick, Jason Bell, a researcher at the Centre for Competition Regulation and Economic Development, says, “The market power that [the meat and dairy] industries possess was facilitated and has continued to be supported by government subsidies, protection and support to ensure that these industries survive competition and shocks.” He adds that the vegan industry’s growth threatens the meat and dairy industries’ market power; thus, regulations such as that mentioned above were implemented.

Parkinson tells Wits Vuvuzela it is about planting and producing fruit, vegetables and grains that are seasonal and indigenous to the country. She says plants such as sorghum and beans, which are superfoods, are highly nutritious, resilient to terrain and climate, affordable to grow and buy and do well with little water.

To make a change we must learn to eat the rainbow. We don’t need to buy expensive fruits and vegetables, even growing your own garden can make a massive difference.  Photo: Elishevah Bome 

Sohn says if government and farming corporations do not come to the party, the South African public can and must take it into their own hands: “It’s about consumers becoming producers. Everyone should grow something, either in their own backyard or in a community garden.” According to Stats SA, fewer than 20% of households were involved in agricultural production of food between 2017 and 2020.  Sohn further says, “We need more urban farmers to grow organic food close to where people live, and to buy from small local farmers.”

Parkinson and Sohn bring up regenerative growing practices. “If the farming sectors could shift the way they produce the meat to [these] farming techniques, they can also have a positive impact on reducing the effects of climate change,” says Parkinson, adding that the meat and dairy farming industries will not just disappear. With regenerative farming, animals graze in rotation and help pull carbon back into soil. This strengthens resilience against climate change, droughts and floods. By doing so, meat will be produced in a better way. 

So to the question of ”to eat the cow or to not eat the cow”, it can be derived from the people Wits Vuvuzela consulted that there is no clear answer. What is clear, however, is that climate change is exacerbated by the meat and dairy industries. Lazar says, “At the end of the day we cannot get everyone to be vegan, but if one million people cut down on meat it will make more impact than if a couple of hundred thousand go fully vegan.”

Parkinson echoes this, saying that two to three percent of South Africans are vegan and the global trends of meat consumption are growing only in lower-income countries. ”I believe we do not need everyone to be vegan, but we do need people to eat less meat,’’ she says. She encourages campaigns such as Meat Free Monday and Sustainable Sunday.

Sohn says, ”The trick is not to be too purist about it; to eat beyond labels. Eat more veg, more fruit, less chemicals, less preservatives and, if possible, less meat.’’

Old MacDonald had a farm, Ee i ee i oh. And on his farm he had some cows, Ee i ee i oh. With some moderation here and a meat-free Monday there, here some fruit, there some veg, now a controlled moo-moo… Old MacDonald may still have a farm in 2030, Ee i ee i oh.

FEATURED IMAGEThe growth of the vegan industry in South Africa may be a solution to the climate crisis, but is cutting out the cow the remedy? Photo: Elishevah Bome

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Accounting Science students up in arms about ‘unfair’ exam

Students say that they were set up to fail auditing supplementary exam.

A group of over 50 third-year BAccSci students who failed their supplementary auditing exam fear that they will not be able to secure funding and register for the upcoming academic year.

In a meeting organised by the students with the Head of School of Accountancy, Professor Nirupa Padia, on Wednesday, January 23, the students claimed that the ACCN3015 paper which they wrote on November 27, 2018, was “identical” to that written by the fourth-year class during the same period and that is the reason for their failure.

Padia told the students that she would consider their complaints and try and come up with a solution before their next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, January 31. The students have also written to the Vice-Chancellor’s office and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Sifiso Mduli, who was repeating third year, fears that he will lose his bursary if these grievances are not resolved soon. The students are demanding a review of their exam or possibly even a second sitting because they say these results cast a doubt on their future at the university.

“I’ve communicated with my bursar but it’s difficult to explain. They’ll believe that I am incompetent especially because of last year. So it seems like I might be forced to fund myself if I want to continue studying.

The students also alleged at the meeting with Padia that some of their classmates had been allowed to view their scripts and review their marks while others were not permitted. Those who had viewed their scripts were said to have subsequently passed.

The situation has gained national attention with the issue being discussed on SAfm early last week. The requirements of the course were highlighted in the radio discussion with Professor Jason Cohen, the deputy dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management. The requirements are that third-year students have to pass all four of their subjects (management accounting and finance, taxation, auditing and financial accounting) to progress to fourth year.

“This is not a qualification requirement to receive the Bachelors of Accounting Science degree, it is an entry requirement into the fourth year or, so-called CTA year,” Cohen said. “So a number of students managed to pass through by obtaining credits in a more piecemeal manner. It is only in trying to access that fourth year that we require those students to pass through.”

Cohen argued on air that, despite these demands, most students had performed reasonably well, saying that nearly three quarters of the student body had passed three of the four courses, while auditing had a pass rate of 60%.

“I understand the frustrations of the students who were not able to succeed this time around but nearly 500 students passed that particular course being referred to,” Cohen added.

Third-year BAccSci student, Rudelle Pillay, said that she had been left with very few options and hoped the situation would be resolved before the academic year began.

“I feel that they have been inconsistent; there’s no transparency in this course. We have been talking to them for weeks so this could get resolved sooner rather than later.

“I’ve had to convert to a BCom because I wanted to register. My parents cannot afford to pay for those four subjects again, considering that I still owe money,” Pillay added.

FEATURED IMAGE: The School of Accountancy is wrapped in controversity as students claim to have disadvantaged in supp exam Photo: Tshego Mokgabudi

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Finance students learn from KPMG saga

KPMG South Africa has been under heavy criticism recently after the auditing firm retracted conclusions and findings of a report conducted for the South African Revenue Services (Sars) following an internal investigation. Finance students have been urged to use the KPMG controversy as a case study for their future careers in the financial services sector.   (more…)