Zimbabwean born and raised Tsitsi Sharara (née Dhitima) knew at about 12 years old that she wanted to be a chartered accountant (CA). Inspired by her CA uncle – the only one who had taken the numbers route in a family of science enthusiasts – Tsitsi made a plan: she would leave her home country and pursue studies in South Africa at one of the top universities in the country.

She was so confident in her plan that Tsitsi didn’t apply to anywhere else, nor did she list a second option course on her application. She was accepted into her choice university’s BCom Accounting programme and, at the start of 2014, moved to a new country. Her first year was a breeze and felt like a year-long revision of the A-level studies she had completed the year before.

Second year was a different story. In fact, it was a year-long accounting nightmare. Not only was it more intense and rigorous, it was also the year of #FeesMustFall protests that disrupted so much of campus and academic life nationally. Everything together meant that staying apace with her demanding course work was too much to handle. Tsitsi fell behind with her studies and eventually failed her financial reporting module. This meant that not only would she not continue with it at third-year level, but she would then graduate with a general degree in BCom Accounting – not a CA.

This wasn’t the plan, but Tsitsi was determined to make it work. She completed her Honours in Financial Analysis and embraced a career in finance, convincing herself that accounting had actually been her uncle’s dream job and not hers.

Work permit issues forced Tsitsi to return to Zimbabwe in 2018. She spent months searching for a job, but nothing came up except for accounting opportunities that didn’t appeal to her. Then, out of desperation, she finally took an accounting job. About a year into the position, she started noticing that new hires at her company were landing better jobs and more attractive remuneration packages than she had. That’s when the penny dropped: she needed to reroute to her original CA ambitions and realise her full potential.

Tsitsi had a heart-to-heart conversation with her parents and concluded that she would return to her studies. In 2020, she completed a bridging course with an open distance learning institution, with a plan to return to her alma mater for a Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting (PGDA). Then, through a chance encounter with a peer who had had a similar experience to Tsitsi’s at the same institutions, Tsitsi learnt about Milpark Education. The recommendation was so impressive that Tsitsi applied for a mid-2021 commencement.

“I shifted to Milpark Education because I realised that the support there was what I needed, based on the recommendation I had received” she said. Later in the year, when Tsitsi became sick with Covid-19 and, once again, fell behind in her studies, she was especially grateful for the extra support. At the time she was also in the midst of planning her wedding and readying for a move back to South Africa to be with her soon-to-be husband.

With everything going on, Tsitsi questioned if it was the right time to study at all, but she was mindful too of the fees she had paid already and summoned the motivation to press on. Then came an email from Gareth Olivier, Head of the School of Professional Accounting at Milpark, which gave her the option to restart her studies with the 2022 cohort. “I knew immediately that this was the option for me,” said Tsitsi. “I didn’t want to go through the entire academic year and pay the full fees only to redo the year, so this option made sense for me.”

She responded to the email and soon after received a call from Terri-Leigh Ryklief, a student support and development advisor who talked her through the decision. “When I joined in 2022, I felt more certain and more positive that my goals and dreams had been realigned.”

Tsitsi completed her PGDA, but not without rewriting a supplementary exam for Financial Reporting. She recalled when she received her results during a client meeting, having begun the first year of her articles. The moment was filled with jubilant screams and applause and congratulations from colleagues and client alike – a moment she remembers fondly.

Tsitsi’s story shows that there are many routes to becoming a CA. If one fails, try another. “I hope to help people realise that regardless of how the journey may meander and have ups and downs, if you really want something, you can get it. There’s no one route to your destination.”