mzansi Bishop with a PASSION TO END POVERTY

He chose his path after Robben Island, says man of the cloth Njongonkulu Winston Ndungane, offering two business cards that carry the shortened version of his isiXhosa name.

"Not on your life!" he exclaims.

This is how he responds to the question whether, given the media frenzy generated by Mvume Dandala throwing his lot in with the Congress of the People (Cope), we were not likely to see him doing the same any time soon.

People who were at the forefront of the formation of the ANC were church people, Ndungane says. The clergy have always offered spiritual leadership, he says, citing as an example the involvement of his predecessor at Bishopscourt, Desmond Tutu, as opposed to the getting-dirty participation of the sort Dandala has opted for.

If he'd have gone the route of politics, he says, he'd have preferred serving in foreign affairs.

But as fate would have it, his destiny was sealed long before he could even apply his mind to the matter. His grandfather was a priest and "so was my father and a few other uncles".

After a term at the famed island prison - a rite of passage for anyone with a political opinion at the time, his life became a roller-coaster ride of serving as deacon, priest, further studies at King's College, a posting in Elsies River, then Johannesburg.

But he embedded himself in the public psyche when he took over from Tutu as the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, a post he occupied for 11 years: "I could have stayed on [until the mandatory retirement age of 70]."

But the need to conquer other challenges was overwhelming for Ndungane, who is turning 68 on the second day of April.

Among the challenges was the establishment of the African Monitor, "an independent not-for-profit civil society institution whose main function is to monitor aid that flows from the developed world into Africa".

The archbishop, who chuckles that his title carries no emeritus status, has always been known throughout his ministry for campaigning for the cancellation of African debt - a stance which has gained him audiences with the likes of former British PM Tony Blair, among others.

The aim of the African Monitor is to see what sort of aid comes to our shores, what Africa does with it and how the help impacts on ordinary members of society.

Ndungane says there's donor fatigue brought on by the fact that despite the billions of rand in aid, there's no proof of its effect on the continent.

He tells the story of a cab driver in London who asked him if he didn't think Blair was mad, for taking money meant for English pensioners and using it to prop up corrupt African rulers.

This is how some parts of the world view aid to Africa.

African Monitor has taken Ndungane all over the continent - for talks with those such as Paul Kagame, Benjamin Mkapa, Meles Zenawi - and some parts of the world. This perhaps is the island prisoner's dream to be in foreign affairs coming full circle!

For a moment he stops talking, only then acknowledging the tea that has hitherto remained untouched in front of him.

Even when you were not watching, you'd notice that he took no sugar, choosing instead to take it with two slices of lemon.

Dressed in a chic, light blue shirt and matching navy slacks, his skin is a picture of good health, thanks to a life free of harmful vices.

His desire to see Africa prosper has seen Ndungane also get involved in Agra - the Alliance for Green Revolution, a body chaired by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

"It targets small farmers," says Ndungane, whose pique is that even with abundant agrarian land, Africa can still not feed herself.

Grappling with issues of poverty is an age-old passion of his. In his book A World with a Human Face, he ponders a thought that occurred to him during his incarceration on Robben Island - "that the new South Africa would need heroes of a different kind, those willing to challenge poverty".

The second business card was of the Historic Schools Restoration Project, to which he was invited by Arts and Culture Minister Dr Pallo Jordan.

The aim of this project, says the Arch, is to restore historically significant schools and "turn them into centres of educational and cultural excellence".

He's so passionate about the project "you can see I come alive when I talk about this".

At some point he breaks into isiXhosa, his mother tongue, making a point about how the libraries at these schools need to be stocked with books in indigenous languages.

The earmarked schools are in the words of Minister Jordan, "incubators of our leadership".

They will start with only a handful before attending to the rest, says Ndungane: "When you want to eat an elephant, you start with a small piece."

He's just finished reading the biography of Trevor Manuel. He has his own in the pipeline, to be penned by celebrated novelist Sindisiwe Magona.

After cricket, rugby - where nephews Odwa and Akhona Ndungane continue to shine - is another welcome distraction.