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A whole two days after the national soccer team Bafana Bafana's third triumph over Cameroon, the bewildering 3-2 score is still the talking point at an address in Saxonwold, just north of Johannesburg.

Number 21, at the corner of Riviera and Oxford roads, is the home of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, the biggest beneficiary of last Wednesday's clash between Bafana and the Indomitable Lions.

The win in the Nelson Mandela Challenge has ensured a R500 000 windfall for the kitty of the charity named after the world's foremost statesman, who celebrated his 90th birthday this year.

"We're certainly glad that Bafana won," says fund CEO Sibongile Mkhabela as she hops from one meeting to another - a typical day for her.

The fund has been in existence for 13 years and dispenses about R45million a year to charities from an endowment that has grown from R250million in 2001 to the current R430million, Mkhabela says.

Only 10 percent of their spending money comes from the endowment, while for the rest they have to go cap in hand to sponsors.

And working for an organisation that carries Madiba's name does not mean it is flush with cash.

"The magic is gone," Mkhabela says. "People want to hear concretely what you plan to do with their money."

Every cent counts for the fund, whose raison d'etre is "to change the way society treats its children and the youth".

The South African Football Association (Safa) has promised to up the ante at the next encounter and commit R750000 next year.

Mkhabela was a Black Consciousness (BC) activist and a thorn in the side of the apartheid regime. For her troubles the government of the day gave her a three-year prison term at a female penitentiary in Kroonstad, from which she was released in 1982.

After that her passion has always been working for nonprofit organisations.

She worked in a few of these, including the RDP office, before joining then deputy president Thabo Mbeki's staff in 1995.

When she left five years later she'd helped set up the National Development Agency.

She likens working with children to one huge playground of fun.

"Children blossom when you take an interest in them," she says.

Married with two grown-up daughters, she believes in the significance of family as the nucleus of a healthy society.

Losing her son Lindokuhle, a laatlammetjie who died at five, made Mkhabela more passionate about working with children. Her biggest focus so far is "facilitating the establishment of a children's hospital".

According to brochures made available, the proposed child-centred specialist health care facility, to cater for Southern Africa, will be operational by 2011.

Mkhabela's own upbringing is a lesson in how to counter youth apathy by becoming involved in politics and other societal engagements, she says.

As a 10-year-old she was already tagging along wherever her older brother, Khehla Mthembu, went.

One place she remembers with particular fondness is the library at the YWCA in Dube, where her brother Khehla was a member.

Added to the excursions with her brother was the simple fact of growing up in Zola surrounded by women like her own mother, naMasango, and the likes of Ellen Kuzwayo, she says.

"She was a feminist," she says of her mother who, incidentally, had no education.

When she left Dr BW Vilakazi High School, Mkhabela attended the famed Naledi High that was teeming with stalwarts of the 1976 student uprising.

She was part of the debating society led by Popo Molefe. Naledi High was a direct contrast to her previous school.

She speaks highly of the principal, a Mr Mthimkhulu.

"We read a lot," she says about her days at the school.

"I'm a product of organisations," she laughs at the memory of her membership of a myriad student bodies, from Christian to politics.

This is where she first got wind of black theology, from Frank Chikane, who had been to Naledi High before them.

"I'm the God of the oppressed" is one line of the scriptures she remembers vividly from those days. "It shaped my thinking then." she says.

"People in society took an interest in youth affairs. They set up structures. We were even members of Scouts and Girl Guides."

She adds: "If I were to go back to Zola to find out what organisations young people in my street belonged to, I'd find they don't."

Mkhabela then graduated in social work at the University of Zululand.

Can the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund have asked for a better head? Hardly; she fits the bill perfectly.

The conversation moves to how, like advocate Mojanku Gumbi, she's a BC exponent whom economics has lumped with Charterists. She laughs.

"My politics is my way of life.

"With BC, it starts with you. My own interpretation of the world does not take away another person's understanding."

She is tolerant of difference and her politics allows her to say: "I love you very much, my brother, but you talk nonsense."

The mother of two girls Ntsako and Hlawulani, Mkhabela says as parents, her generation, has failed their children.

"We've handed our children over to other people to raise on our behalf."

She says this generation is not strict enough.

"We don't want our children to clean the stoep in the morning or wake us up with a cup of coffee."

Ntsako has just given her a granddaughter, Lwandle, "the centre of my life".

Like her older sister, who is a university graduate, Hlawulani has also just finished her Honours in Political Science at Rhodes, says this proud mom.

Mkhabela is also DIY fanatic who wants to do a course in bricklaying. A great lover of fiction, she shares her books with her daughters.

She's married to Ishmael, another big name in BC circles.

"The absolute backbone of the family," she calls him.


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