A true Namibian trailblazer in her own right, Nangula Uaandja was Namibia’s first black female chartered accountant and since then has amassed over 23 years’ experience in the auditing sphere. She has served as PwC’s partner on audits of various financial services institutions, state owned enterprises, energy and utilities as well as donor-funded organisations. Uaandja, whom her colleagues and peers describe as a remarkable leader, was also the country’s first black and first female president of the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Namibia (ICAN) and has also served on various sub-committees of ICAN since 2002.
She was also a member of the Public Accountant’s and Auditors Board and has been patron of the University of Namibia Accounting Society from 2003 to present.
Uaandja is no stranger to the spotlight and was previously named as newsmaker of the year by the Prime Minister of Namibia and offered the position of Auditor General by the State President. A winner of the Namibian Economist Business Woman of the Year, Uaandja was recently interviewed by New Era’s Senior Business Journalist, Edgar Brandt:
Q: Where were you born and how would you describe your early schooling years?
A: I was born at a small village, Etomba in the Ohangwena region. My schooling was quite interesting especially high school because I am probably the only Namibian that did my five secondary school grades at five different schools, two of which are in Sierra Leone (West Africa). I never failed a grade but ended up writing the final examination on a distance basis. That was during the colonial times, filled with strikes and school was on and off which led to my move from one school to another and eventually to my leaving the country for exile at the age of 15. Then before I could write my grade 12 examination in Sierra Leone, I had to come back home (after independence) to escape civil war that broke out in that country.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to become a chartered accountant and how did you pursue this goal?
A: A very interesting question. All my life I thought I would become a doctor or a scientist or an engineer or anything else in the Science field and did not even know about accounting until the time I was at university. However, when time to apply to university came, I decided to opt for a course that would help me assist my father with his business and especially solve his tax challenges. At the time, I thought that the appropriate course was economics and so I applied for Bachelor of Economics. In my first year at university, I found out the course I needed was accounting so I changed to Bachelor of Commerce in my second year but then still kept economics as a major.
As I pursued my accounting studies, I heard about the South Africa Institute of Chartered Accountants and wrote to them to ask about how one can acquire that qualification. Towards the end of my second year, I wrote to Coopers & Lybrand Chartered Accountants (a firm whose name I remember seeing among my father’s documents and later came to find out they assisted him with his accounting work) to ask for vacation work and the rest is history, as they say.
Q: What were some of the challenges you experienced while qualifying to become Namibia’s first female and first black chartered accountant and how did you overcome obstacles?
A: There are your everyday challenges that every person on a career journey or a leader goes through i.e. work/life integration, demanding clients and bosses, laid back colleagues who let you do all the work , office politics and later-on lazy employees, but I do not want to dwell on those.
The one challenge I faced in my first few months that I can share with you was a language barrier. I originate from the north of Namibia where we were not taught Afrikaans and when I joined the business world, I found out that Afrikaans was the official business language at the time. In the first few months, I responded with all kinds of emotions and goal setting but in the end, I accepted that numbers, not languages, were my strength. So, I decided to be myself, continue to invest in my strength and deliver to the best of my ability. I also stood up, challenged where necessary and politely asked people to change the conversation where necessary. Finally, I accepted and loved everyone and together we promoted inclusivity.
Q: How were you received by your peers once you entered the chartered accountant profession?
A: I must admit that while my seniors and clients were always supportive, my peers were originally sceptical about my abilities. I guess some might have felt that I was being promoted on account of my gender and/or race. However, once we established common ground and set some records straight, I can say I have received only support and nothing less from most of those that I have worked with over the years.
Q: How would you describe the current status of and what do you expect for the future of the chartered accountant profession in Namibia?
A: The current status of the accounting profession might not be where it should in terms of the number of chartered accountants (CAs) or other globally recognised accounting professionals such as ACCA in the country compared to other countries, but I believe it is strong.
We comply with International standards on auditing and accounting. The country has the presence of all the big four accounting firms in the world, a number of international mid-tier firms and some local mid-tier and small firms.
Our qualification (CA)(NAM) designation is globally accepted, it enjoys a reciprocity agreement with South Africa’s SAICA and it enables mobility of professionals with quite a number of them already working internationally. We continue to train and qualify a growing number of CAs annually
My expectation from the profession is two-fold: that the profession continues to train and develop young professionals with specific focus on diversity; that ethics is maintained, and that the profession continues to deliver work of high quality.
Q: How would you describe your time at the helm of PwC Namibia?
A: My time at the “helm” of PwC has been fulfilling. I have learned, I have grown, and I believe I have contributed and made a difference. I have made friends, I think I have made a few enemies, but no worries, any such will be resolved in due course. I have really been doing what I love and I will always cherish every moment of this season in my life.
So, what does this really mean? My focus at PwC was on:
Talent – I have over the years ensured that we grow talent at PwC and most of these have gone on to become leaders in Namibia;
Clients – PwC has attracted and retained brand defining clients from various industries. I believe we have always delivered high quality services to our clients and provided relevant solutions to their business. In turn, these clients have provided great exposure to our firm and our people;
Namibia – At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. This is underpinned by our core values of Care, Act with integrity, Make a difference, Work together and Re-imagine the possible. It has been my pleasure to lead and be part of a team that epitomises these purposes and values. We have focused on been part of the solutions to the challenges facing our country especially in the area of skills development.
Q: What will you focus on after leaving PwC?
A: Well, I still need to focus on PwC for the next four months and I believe in being present until I leave like one wise person once said, “do not leave until you leave”.
In any case, when I handed in my resignation on 30 December 2019, it was in response to a call. Although, what I will do is not specific yet, I believe the Lord wants me to be part of the solution to the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality that is raging our country. Specifically, my burden is on skills development, enterprise development and collaboration between the public and private sectors. I have spent the first 23+ years of my career on my first major subject i.e. Accounting, I believe it is now time to spend the rest on my second major i.e. Economics.
Q: You have been tipped as a sterling candidate for a top government position. If you were offered a position in either the Ministry of Finance or at the Namibia Revenue Agency, which would you prefer and why?
A: That is very interesting. I have usually said that I have stopped making plans for my career because I have barely ended up where I planned to be. When the time is right, God opens the door and I just enter. Let us see which door He will open and at His directive, I will enter.
Q: How would you encourage young Namibians to find their purpose in life?
A: I usually share the following guidance to my mentees. Your purpose lies at the intersection of i) Your talents/gifts; ii) Your burden; iii) Your passion and iv) The available opportunities.
If you are to draw crossing circles of those four points, the intersection is where your calling lies. While, you find out more about your burden and passion, work to discover your talents, grow and develop those talents and then deploy them by linking them to a place to serve. No one was called while they are sleeping. A call comes to those who are busy and for those that are Christians, Jesus said “occupy, till I come”. So young Namibians, whatever you do, occupy and make a difference.
Q: What do you like doing in your spare time?
A: What a question? Which spare time? Time is too short to have spare time.
Jokes aside, besides my work, parental and Christian commitments (which are all a given), I tend to enjoy sleeping, watching movies/series/news/soccer, travelling and walking.