No one ever thinks that they can go blind one day and we are certainly not prepared for that even if it happens. But Gretha Hart BAP (SA) had to start from scratch and rebuild her life after experiencing blindness. Not being able to drive whenever she wants to or seeing properly meant that her ability to work came to a grinding halt. But Gretha quickly realised that she had to learn new skills, and through sheer perseverance managed to regain her life and her professional calling as an accountant.
Born and raised in Bulawayo, Gretha holds a secretarial diploma from what was then called Salisbury Polytechnic (Zimbabwe) and a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Griffith University in Australia. She got her first job in a coal mining company in Salisbury (now Harare) before moving to South Africa
Moving to Australia.
Working for several companies and being trained to be a bookkeeper, she developed a love for accounting until 2007 when she decided to go to Australia and study for a B.Com degree. At that time, she was 47 years of age. Being the oldest student in the class, but finishing a four year degree in three years. One can say that Gretha is the epitome of perseverance and determination
Being 47 and starting to look for a job is certainly a handicap, and Gretha found herself returning to South Africa with very little chance of finding employment. So she decided to start her practice (Gretha Vd Merwe Accounting Services Trust) with just five clients.
Since starting her own practice she has experienced highlights and lowlights – but has absolutely no regrets: “I worked at Hercules, and was given the opportunity to work with beneficiaries of a deceased estate. There were 12 of them. The first meeting was nerve-racking. After three months I knew I could do this. I gained the confidence to deal with these very unhappy people who fought over funds. I knew I had found my niche.”
When asked about the difficulties that she as an accountant, Gretha says: “Many clients do not understand what they see when you show them a trial balance. All they see a profit or loss. Then complain when they have to pay tax. I try to teach them how to read a trial balance and what they are spending their money on.” She also spends time explaining to clients the importance of the services and the depth of information on their businesses that she provides.
Gretha is a proud member of SA Institute of Busines Accountants (Saiba), and is part of the Eastern Cape chapter.
We asked Gretha how she managed to survive and prosper in a male-dominated profession. “It has been hard to conquer the male-dominated world. I have had to do several interviews with prospective clients to get the work. I have found that you have to work extra hard to get them to trust you and your judgement. One major event took place in the last three months when a client phoned and said they only wanted to work with a woman-owned business.”
Her advice for women was to go after the career they wanted, and never let anything get in the way. Also, giving 110% of your efforts to achieve your goals.
As we are experiencing a global pandemic, most people are affected by the limited ability to move due to the lockdown. Gretha says the lockdown made her realise the importance of cloud accounting, and is in the process of training herself in QuickBooks. Most clients are used to paper-based systems, so it takes some convincing to get them to shift to the cloud.
Gretha’s spirit of resilience – given her sight impairment – is all the more admirable given that she has built a thriving practice and has refused to let this interfere with the attainment of her goals. She wrote a book called Accept Me Please, which helped her heal and enabled her to gather the strength to rebuild her life. A remarkable story of a remarkable woman.