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South Africa’s Luhabe will not raise second women’s private equity fund

Posted on Friday, 16 November 2012 15:17

It is not like Wendy Luhabe to give up, but the South African business icon plans to exit the pioneering Women Private Equity Fund (WPEF) within the next two years and is not planning to create a second fund.

Set up in 2002 with R120m ($14m) to invest in women-owned or led businesses, the WPEF was a first of its kind in Africa and one of only 10 woman-focused private equity funds in the world.

Luhabe, a former chairman of telecom giant Vodacom, is one of South Africa’s best known business figures.

“Even though this fund has done well, there’s not appetite for it,” Luhabe told The Africa Report on the sidelines of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society in Deauville, France in mid-October.

She says that to raise capital for another fund would be “equally hard work” and she would rather spend her time on other projects.

Fundraising for the WPEF was a challenge, with money eventually coming from investors including the Development Bank of South Africa, the pension funds of parastatals Eskom and Transnet and the International Development Corporation of South Africa, where Luhabe was controversially chairman at the time.

In June 2012, the WPEF exited its first investment, a company called Respiratory Care Africa that makes medical equipment, by selling its shareholding in a secondary deal to private equity companies RMB Corvest and Shalamuka Capital.

“We were able to recover 70% of the original capital invested. We’ve returned that money back to investors,” says Luhabe.

The fund plans to exit its four other investments within two years.

“It’s not that [WPEF] didn’t succeed, it’s that there needs to be a critical mass,” she argues.

“If lots of other people had started funds as a result of my pioneering endeavour and we ended up with 10 women’s funds in South Africa, it would have changed the landscape.”

Mentor to many young entrepreneurs, Luhabe has become disenchanted with the ability of South Africa’s education system to provide people with the skills and confidence to start their own businesses.

“Education is in crisis,” she says. “In my view, it is much worse than the Bantu education [system] in terms of the content, in terms of the quality, in terms of the commitment of the teachers.”

Luhabe spends part of her time serving as a judge on a TV contest for entrepreneurs called The Big Break Legacy Show.

Aside from that, she says she is still waiting for the next business opportunity to present itself.

She is married to Mbhazima Shilowa, former member of the African National Congress from Gauteng Province who split in 2008 to form the Congress of the People.

Luhabe says she is not interested in politics – but adds she “keeps an open mind”●

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