Beyond the call of duty

Had he been an actor, Dr Nthato Motlana would have created a king-size headache for film agents seeking to typecast him for predictable roles appropriate to his nature or demeanour.

Had he been an actor, Dr Nthato Motlana would have created a king-size headache for film agents seeking to typecast him for predictable roles appropriate to his nature or demeanour.

Not for Motlana, fondly known as "the people's doctor'', to fall into the routine of archetypal doctor solely dedicated to a life of tending to the sickly at his consulting rooms in Soweto.

National duty often called on him to ditch the stethoscope for fiery speeches at political rallies.

For his troubles, he earned the label of "political doctor" from his apartheid government adversaries, who harboured the same venom for "the political bishop", Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

But his enemies included some of his own people, such as homeland leaders.

Once, the doctor had the good sense not to honour an invitation to deliver a political speech in the late 80s, only for someone to be mistaken for him and be tarred and feathered by supporters of a homeland leader at the venue.

Acting beyond the call of duty was second nature to Motlana, who was abundantly imbued with chutzpah and drive that once saw him serving on more than 40 boards of companies.

While he dedicated his life to being the architect of the demise of apartheid, he expended the same amount of energy into pioneering black economic empowerment.

His vision to create a giant company in the mould of the Anglo-Americans gained some impetus when he and his business partner, Jonty Sandler, founded and built New Africa Investments Limited into a powerful force in the 1990s.

But the pair and Nail grew too powerful for their own good. Their vision earned them faceless enemies. A palace coup precipitated their demise in the late 90s. Soon Nail fell into the hands of black empowerment luminaries who clearly did not share Motlana's vision.

A subsequent garage sale of Nail assets would end Motlana's dream of building a giant conglomerate - of which blacks could be proud - in flames.

Doubtless, the good ol' doctor gave it his best shot - and the new South Africa is all the better for it.

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