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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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"I'm a great supporter of black advancement," Nkuhlu continues, "but I am also the first to criticize those who use oppression as an excuse." He prefers not to discuss his political affiliations and is one of the few former political prisoners who conceals his jail term on his resume.

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"I don't care what the political orientation of people is," Nkuhlu says. "The only criteria in evaluating a project is whether it makes development sense."

Nkuhlu parries a question as to whether his early involvement with the Pan Africanist Congress has anything to do with his achievements. Then he asserts that black pride and belief in the power of scientific knowledge are the key.

"That is what will really liberate us," he says. "And the only way to get it is to make sacrifices."

Nkuhlu, born and raised in the rural Transkei town of Cala, has personal experience of the passions aroused by the oppression of apartheid. He served two years in the notorious Robben Island political prison for giving vent to those feelings.

He became obsessed with the two years of schooling he forfeited during his imprisonment. He took his final high school examination by correspondence and began saving money to go to college while working as a clerk at a gold mine.

A month before black students in Soweto led the historic rebellion against apartheid in June 1976, Nkuhlu became the country's first black chartered accountant.

Now he has emerged as the vital link between the politically empowered black majority in South Africa and the economically empowered white establishment that is seeking to redistribute the country's resources among the entire population without a revolutionary upheaval.

He says that the politicians of tomorrow do not have development issues high enough on their agenda.

"I do not believe politicians are giving development issues the priority they deserve," Nkuhlu says.

But he is pragmatic enough to realize that he cannot motivate any foreign loans for development until the ANC gives the green light to lifting international economic sanctions against South Africa.

He says that the politicians hold the key to resolving the political crisis which, in turn, is the only way to make the development capacity of government accessible to the whole population.

United States Ambassador Princeton Lyman is full of praise for Nkuhlu's role in restructuring development institutions.

"The challenge is: How do you marry government-type institutions with grass-roots community groups that are looking for political credibility as well as development stamps?" Mr. Lyman says. `I think Wiseman Nkuhlu's role is a very positive one."

Despite his influential reputation as a visionary development economist, Nkuhlu keeps in touch with the grass roots.

"I know Nkuhlu from the early days," says Archie Nkonyeni, president of the National African Associated Chambers of Commerce, "and he is one of the most humble men I've ever met. He has always seemed to believe his accomplishments were not an individual asset but something that could help complement the development of the broader community."

Nkuhlu says the most important thing in life is to stay accessible, and to be able to see yourself as other people see you.

"I've always found it important for people to be able to have an honest conversation with you," he says, and "be able to say: `You are spending too much time with the top brass and forgetting where you come from.' "