Balfour fond of uplifting people

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

The former wife of Ngconde Balfour, minister of correctional services, is by no means a woman who draws identity from her spouse.

On Friday, a small group of spectators gathered to watch 10 high school students receiving laptops, courtesy of Engen and the Learning channel, for excellence in science, mathematics and English.

At the same event, nine teachers won cash prices for delivering good performance to students in underprivileged areas.

It is all part of a broader strategy developed by Khanyisa Balfour, the director of Engen's corporate social investment, who is determined to carve out a legacy of her own.

Balfour says: "The real work is done in the professional development projects in the different provinces. Teachers go to school and learn skills that they bring into the classroom."

While it may seem that CSI is a mere exercise of dishing out prizes and cash, it soon becomes evident that the country's social needs require careful thinking.

Balfour is passionate about development issues and communities, but she says: "I never actually knew what I wanted to do when I was younger.

"I think my aspirations were always in nursing because I was surrounded by nurses. My first profession was in nursing, but I soon realised that I wasn't cut out for that field.

"I only practised for four years. Because of the political situation in the Eastern Cape, I relocated to Cape Town, where I was introduced to the non-governmental organisations sector."

She worked with the medical research council and with the University of Cape Town research institution, before moving overseas with her then-husband Ngconde. "It was a form of escape for us. My former husband had to leave because things were very difficult at the time."

In 1989 the family went to Australia, where she obtained a psychology degree and they returned in 1995 to a career in politics. She joined Parliament with an organisation called the Women's Development Foundation, which was establishing the gender commission and the gender bill.

Three years later she left and worked with a number of NGOs between 1997 and 2002, both as a practitioner on the ground, and also in a donor capacity.

She says: "It's very fulfilling. It's lovely to know that you've made a shift, and you've contributed to a bigger agenda whether driven by government or with an NGO.