Black South Africans Seek An Edge

US program set up to increase pool of managers and train them for post-apartheid society

SIX months ago, Harvey Khuzwayo was given a promotion at the First National Bank of South Africa in Johannesburg.

What makes this event newsworthy is that Mr. Khuzwayo had just returned from a six-month project in New York called the "Professional Development Program" (PDP), which trains black South Africans for a post-apartheid society. The participants are chosen by their South African employers. Khuzwayo says the program not only helped him get the promotion, but also is helping him analyze potential loans in his new position.

Khuzwayo's promotion is a sign that the PDP program, which celebrates its first anniversary next month, is having some success. The sponsors will get a better idea after the current cycle of 13 professionals finish up their programs at the end of July. But it could be 10 years until the final impact of the program is felt.

"The goal of this program is to increase the pool of black managerial talent and give them a bit of an edge so they can compete with their white counterparts in South Africa," says Nomsa Daniels, the program administrator here. To meet that goal, 13 New York-area companies have volunteered to train the professionals - sometimes through on-going programs and sometimes with on-the-job activities. Although most of the companies are involved in financial services, the program also includes such giants as Gen eral Foods, IBM, and Con Edison.

The effort is modest but is attracting some high-level attention. On June 15, the South African participants went to Washington to meet with Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, White House Economic Security Advisor Robert Rubin, and District Mayor Sharon Pratt-Kelly, as well as other dignitaries.

PDP is the brainchild of New York Mayor David Dinkins, who challenged the business community to demonstrate its commitment to the anti-apartheid movement after Nelson Mandela's visit to the city in 1990. The mayor calls the program a "prototype" of how business can help as South Africa moves toward a free society. Baruch College in Manhattan administers the program and provides management classes. Expenses are shared by the participants' employers and the companies in the United States that sponsor them.

Con Edison, New York's electric company, is hosting Tumelo Chipfupa, an engineer at Eskom, South Africa's national utility. Mr. Chipfupa says he believes the program will help to accelerate his own career into middle management. At the moment, Chipfupa is the only black engineer at his South African power plant, which has 1,000 employees. "People who work in the place have never seen a black engineer," he says. "Heads turn."

Six months at Con Ed have broadened Chipfupa's exposure, showing him there are different ways to get things done. The program has helped to build his confidence, Chipfupa says. As part of his program, he made a presentation to different Con Ed plants. It is the first time he has had to do this and he says he improved after every presentation.

Nelson Manyati also has been learning while working in the municipal finance department of Goldman Sachs, an investment bank. South Africa does not have a similar municipal bond market. Municipal bond financing "might be one way we might be able to address the problems we have," says Mr. Manyati, a manager of corporate accounts at South Africa's First National Bank. Municipal bond financing could help provide capital for housing and health care, for example.

The American workplace has come as a surprise to some participants. Bernard Montwedi, a sub-branch supervisor at the Amalgamated Bank of South Africa, says he expected to find more African-Americans in management positions when he arrived at his host company, Citibank. But in the six departments he has visited, he has come into contact with only three African-Americans in management positions. "It's basically the same environment I was working in in South Africa," he says. However, he adds that two of th e senior managers at Citibank were black - a rare event at his bank, which has an Afrikaner background.

In fact, some of the programs' participants say they have found a form of apartheid in America. Mr. Montwedi observes that blacks tend to live in "different areas" than whites. Khuzwayo says he was surprised that race relations in America are not better.

Montwedi says he finds it "discriminatory" that there are special programs set up to aid minorities, particularly African-Americans. His opposition to such programs is not surprising since the African National Congress is arguing against setting up special programs, or guaranteeing the rights of the white minority in South Africa.

The 13 participants are all housed at International House at Columbia University. Living with foreign students from around the world has been a broadening experience for the participants since most have not traveled outside South Africa before. "I have come across two people where we have no common language - it is very exciting," Montwedi says.

The South African employers say they expect that the time in America will allow the participants to grow. "It should be beneficial to live in a non-apartheid society," says Chris Vin Staden, senior manager of career development at the First National Bank in Johannesburg. He says that the reason the bank promoted Khuzwayo is because of his training at Citibank in the first cycle.

Although Khuzwayo received a promotion upon returning to South Africa, some say the program may be raising the participants' expectations too high. Last month, Dr. S. Prakash Sethi, the Baruch College project administrator for the program, went to South Africa to meet with the participating South African companies and the first seven participants. He found the changes in the black managers "remarkable." They have become more assertive, want their companies to make better use of their skills, and are seek ing ways to contribute to the wider community. However, he admits that the original group is also frustrated.

"Even their friends expect them to be heroes," he says. "Six months here won't do that. We can plant the seeds, but the germination has to take place in South Africa."

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