Satire: Digitus Impudicus

Tom Rymore takes a wry look at Wendy Luhabe's defining moments in the search for wealth.

Madame Shilowa, First Lady of Gauteng, aka Wendy Luhabe, is one of the most powerful women in the Thabocracy, an entrepreneuse on intimate terms with the highest in the land. This comradette is so busy juggling handfuls of non-executive directorships, we'll never know how she fits in her harp lessons.

Wendy's lip gloss shines from the back cover of her inspirational book, Defining Moments. On the flyleaf, in handwriting like taut barbed wire, she tells the reader: "real value lies in our hearts," and urges "random kindness and senseless acts of beauty." Her motto is: Carpe Diem, or "Seize the Day." The book covers her struggle record as a marketer of cosmetics and BMW cars, then recounts the apartheid travails of other "inxiled" wannabe tycoons.

Their hard times ended in the early Nineties, when a tide in the affairs of men lifted many boats. Bewildered office messengers were dragged into boardrooms, still wearing their ZCC badges. Names went Afro (Hlobongo Holdings, Hlonipha Communications) and the search was on for directors with Xhosa Nostra connections. Mr Shilowa's devoted spouse answered the call.

At the parastatal Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), she replaced Diliza Mji as chair in 2001; he had just loaned himself R22,5 million to go into the armoured car business with Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of the more famous Thabo. CEO Khaya Ngqula raised R25 million for World Wide Africa Investment Holdings, in which his family trust had an interest. And Wendy, in a senseless act of beauty, got R2,5 million preference shares in IT company Rubico Holdings.

We would still be in the dark, had Khaya Ngqula not accepted a gift - from an uncle in the furniture business. At the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), someone spilled the beans to minister Alec Erwin, who went for Ngqula bald-headed and forced him to return the snazzy furniture to the donor. Probing further, Alec found that board members had loaned their own companies R150 million. Fuming, he ruled that directors with shares in a client company should recuse themselves when it was under consideration for a loan. Erwin also exposed their cupidity in the November 2001 annual report.

There were calls for the unbundling of the IDC, but the DTI smoothed it over with reassuring fluff about safeguards and transparency. Alas, the 2002 report revealed that Wendy and the Lost Boys were outdoing Captain Hook. The Board boosted African industry by putting money into Kilimanjaro, the hyper-trendy new Joburg supper club where the currently-advantaged go to boogie. And during a defining moment while she was yet again out of the boardroom, in a random act of kindness her colleagues gave Wendy R50 million to start a private equity fund for women. As the Eskom Pension Fund and the Development Bank of SA came to the party, the kitty swelled to R105 million.

The IDC chair is one foxy lady - who's hunting with the hounds. Women's Private Equity Fund 1 was launched in February as a joint venture. The Wendy Luhabe Consortium (half Wendy - half IDC) has 55 per cent; the remainder falls under Glenhove Fund Managers, run by Leonard Fine. That's a lady? Ja, well, no - Fine is the token pale male of the outfit. He's executive chairman of Cycad, a tightly-held private tech stock investment company where Wendy's on the board. It's good to know that real value lies in our hearts, for Cycad was the third worst performer on the JSE last year, down 84 per cent. So what's the outlook for female financial emancipation? Some of my best friends are women, but I can't help recalling the sustertwis that tore Kensani and Wiphold apart. Time will tell.

Next year, Wendy's hosting a TV talk show. She will urge her audience to seize the day, even though a more apt slogan might be Carpe Spoliam or "Seize the Loot".