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Bringing Money, Power to S. African Blacks

New head of nation's development agencies aims to ensure that economic empowerment accompanies freedom. PROFILE

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WISEMAN NKUHLU has a mission to empower the poor and powerless.

"Political liberation will not mean much to the man in the street," says Professor Nkuhlu, "unless it can deliver housing, jobs, skills, and participation in small-to-medium-sized business activity." Nkuhlu, South Africa's first black chartered accountant and a former university head, this month became the country's most powerful player on the socioeconomic development scene.

Nkuhlu is the new chief executive of the Independent Development Trust (IDT), the country's primary development agency, mandated to help the poor by providing grants for utilities and schools and by undoing the legacy of apartheid in the development field.

Last November, he was appointed chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), an apartheid-linked development agency in the vital area of providing such services as roads, water, and rural electrification.

He is the first black South African to occupy either post and the first person to hold both positions simultaneously. They are the country's two major development agencies and command access to some $3 billion in resources.

Many of his colleagues say he has taken on a superhuman workload, but they point to his remarkable ability to deliver.

"You cannot just talk about transformation," Nkuhlu told the Monitor in a wide-ranging interview in his IDT office on the slopes of Table Mountain. "You have to make it happen."

The organizations he heads "belong to all the people," he says. "They are national assets. I will be giving high priority to heightening the involvement of disadvantaged communities in the creation of development programs."

"It is essential to involve the community at all stages of a project and allow the community to elect their own leaders to run the project," he adds.

His daily schedule would stagger a seasoned corporate executive: For starters, he must fly to the DBSA in Pretoria for two days a week. He is a hand-picked guest at intimate dinners for African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela. He is looked upon as a close ally of the rival Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). And he is frequently called in by President Frederik de Klerk for consultations on development issues.

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