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Obituary: Yvonne Nell, founder and “mother” of Saiba

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It is with tremendous sadness that we learned today of the passing of our dear friend and long-time colleague Yvonne Nell who was the “mother of Saiba” – both literally and figuratively. She was there at its birth and nursed it through its many growing pains with love, care and consummate dedication.

Yvonne Nell, mother of Saiba in every sense of the word, has sadly passed away

Yvonne passed away from a heart condition on Monday morning, 21 December 2020. She was with her husband, Renier, at the end. Renier and Yvonne founded Saiba in their house back in 1987. Though Renier retired from Saiba in 2012, Yvonne was asked to stay on and guide Saiba through its next level of expansion.

Incredibly, Yvonne had remained with Saiba since its inception in 1987. It was, literally, in her DNA. She took tremendous pride as Saiba grew into a force within the accounting community, now with more than 9,000 members. Largely due to her efforts, Saiba is frequently consulted for its input on accounting-related laws and regulations, as well what kind of training requirements are needed to equip the accountant of the future.  

This is a far cry from where Saiba started out as a fledgling organisation in 1987 with very little professional heft.

In later years she was personal assistant to Saiba CEO Nicolaas van Wyk, a role in which she excelled and was by all accounts irreplaceable. “We are all still in quite a state of shock over the news of Yvonne’s passing,” says Nicolaas. “She was working and making phone calls right up until last Friday so it was not something about which we had any particular warning, although we knew Yvonne had a diabetic condition for some years. Despite this, she was always energetic and seemed to handle her diabetes condition without any noticeable strain.”

Yvonne is remembered by her Saiba colleagues as intensely devoted to her family, to her late dog Brutus (who passed away earlier this year), and to accomplishing things that no-one else seemed to be able to do. “She could always get me an appointment,” says Nicolaas. “She organised many conferences for Saiba and her dogged persistence was remarkable. When we were looking for speakers, she would hound them until she got them to agree to attend. I’ve never come across anyone with this determination.”

Hearing that, you might imagine that Yvonne was pure tiger. She was that, but a whole lot more. She had a disarming quality that was irresistible, and a sense of humour that lightened the load when the going got tough. She was also unshakeably loyal to Saiba and those she worked with and loved.

Her colleague Tania Lee remarks that Yvonne was an absolute professional in all she did. ”She wanted all the facts straight before making a decision, and was the ideal kind of person for the position of executive PA. She would phone you five times to make sure you got the message, and was superb at attending to the finer details of business and organsiaiton. She loved her kids and was proud of their accomplishments.  From a professional point of view, she was dedicated to her work, and completely reliable.”

Adds Saiba colleague Jenny Grimmer: ”She was a wonderful human being, loved by everybody. If you did something wrong she would tell you straight, but never harboured any animosity. She was like the mother of Saiba, with the persistence of a Jack Russell. She would get things done like nobody else – I’m amazed she didn’t get Donald Trump to come as a guest speaker to one of our events!

“She was a bit chesty when I spoke to her on Friday. She had diabetes but she had learned to live with it. One thing I know for sure, she was most proud of her family and kids, and would share information about her family, big or small. Her dog Brutus passed away at start of lockdown, and she phoned me first to break the news, and had me in tears, because she knew I love dogs.”

Another Saiba colleague, Wendy Mutshena, first met Yvonne when she joined Saiba in 2015, at which time Yvonne was still the membership manager. Wendy took over that position in 2016, and leaned heavily on Yvonne as she slipped into the saddle. “She was kind and patient with me, and an absolute encylopedia on Saiba details. She would remember members that she approved 10 years ago. When I had any issues with members, I would ask her and she would always have a good suggestion. She was extremely determined. Everyone knew that if you were trying to get something out of a client you give Yvonne a call. It’s tremendously sad that she passed away just before Christmas when she would have loved to be celebrating with her family. We will miss her.”

Adds Chantelle Booyens, another long-time Saiba staffer: “Yvonne used to check in on me at least three times day to make sure I was doing okay. She was such a genuine person, and I am going to miss those check-ins and chats.”

Our condolences and prayers go to her family and friends. She was a founding pillar of Saiba and remained so to the very end of her life. She will indeed be sadly missed.