South Africa Needs A New Ambassador To USA

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[Op-Ed: Global/Africa]

On April 15, 2009, I voted at the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.

The Constitution Court in upholding the Pretoria Court’s decision allowing expatriates to vote made this possible. In voting, I reaffirm – with pride -- my commitment to participating in the vibrant South African political process, while also expressing my unwavering support for the on-going transformation and efforts to position South Africa as a respected democratic nation state.

As a South African expatriate in the Capitol of "Obama country," one can’t help but ponder the historical significance of our third, free and open election. But most importantly, as an active and involved South African expatriate, I cannot resist the temptation to offer my humble though unsolicited suggestions to the incoming Administration in South Africa.

In doing so, I focus my attention on the role of the South African Government Representatives in Washington, D.C., and its potential impact on US-SA bilateral relations.

On April 23, 2009 South Africa will have a new and different political reality, potentially bringing a different epoch to US-SA bilateral relations. Based on all reasonable and realistic projections and election polls, the African National Congress (ANC) is expected to garner majority votes during the April 22, 2009 elections, retaining its control of government, with their leader Jacob Zuma , ascending to the Republic’s Presidency.

President Zuma’s election will not only be a victory for ANC supporters, but it will be celebrated by many activists and friends of Africa in the United States, especially here in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. has a very unique historic relationship with South Africa, because it is a majority Black city, and it is where the "Free South Africa Movement" was officially launched and epitomized by the daily demonstrations and arrests in front of the South African Embassy during the height of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Many of us, expatriates in the United States, look forward to President Zuma’s acceptance speech, Cabinet appointments and the general political tone he will set; but we are particularly interested in the new leader and team he assembles to represent the South African Government in the United States.

In the past 15 years, the South African Government has been represented by very committed public servants who tried their best to promote South African interests in this part of the world. Starting with Ambassador Franklin Sonn, who successfully articulated and promoted President Nelson Mandela’s rainbow vision and agenda, and then Ambassador Sheila Sisulu, who mobilized the expatriate community, effectively lobbied and garnered the support of the African lobby and brought stature to the SA Embassy. Then Ambassador Barbara Masikela tried to promote President Mbeki’s "internationalist agenda", and now the current Ambassador Welile Nhlapo, with his so-called African renaissance credentials.

President Zuma and his team should appoint a new Ambassador to the United States, who can also be, the face and leader of a strong US-SA bilateral team. This leader can best do this by combining the best attributes and programs of Ambassadors Sonn, Sisulu, Masikela, and Nhlapo.

We need a leader who will at the very minimum possess the following skills sets and qualifications:

[] Thorough understanding of the Obama Administration’s "foreign doctrine": defined as a, strong desire to reestablish American leadership in the world, renew principled partnerships and alliances, develop new and strategic partners while holding partners accountable; and the willingness to listen and receive constructive feedback, suggestions and ideas from other nations. An understanding of "Obama Doctrine" will best position our Ambassador to not only navigate through the Diplomatic circles, but to improve in the promotion of SA’s interests in The States.

[] Must be an able and qualified leader: In the age of an American Administration led predominantly by highly credentialed individuals—with advanced Ivy League degrees—it will be helpful to have a representative who will hit the ground running fast on this score. Anti-apartheid struggle credentials will be good but are not a prerequisite.

[] Must be an articulate, strategic and visionary individual. We need a representative who will be a reliable and respected voice of the South African government, who will promote our comprehensive strategic interests; effectively rally the support of the grass-roots friends of South Africa, in the same tradition as Oliver Tambo-: mobilize American coalitions, faith groups, youth groups and unions around our agenda. Over and above this, will constantly update, inform, and educate the American public on the on-going developments in South Africa.

[] Must be a fair and inclusive leader, who will nurture and strengthen the existing relationship with the US government and further develop new partnerships with different stakeholders throughout the American and South African expatriate community.

[] Must be a professional and an effective administrator with a heightened sense of rational public diplomacy imperatives. We need an individual who exemplifies the best we have to offer when it comes to basic administrative and customer service management, and public relations functions; that is, timely response to telephone calls and written correspondence.

The role of the South African Government Representative in Washington, DC and their potential impact on US-SA bilateral relations cannot be underestimated nor undervalued and we therefore, must vigilantly appoint "the right person".

The new Ambassador must effectively address the Americans curiosity and concerns with President Zuma’s legal challenges, growing impatience with cronyism, political nepotism and service delivery obligations.

The new South African Ambassador must strike a delicate diplomatic balance between our differences over Iran, Cuba and North Korea, and the US-SA alliance and resolve to fight international terrorism and HIV/Aids epidemic, for example.

South Africa desperately needs a new Ambassador in Washington, DC who is efficient, strategic, and can articulate our geo-political interests in a way in which it commands the respect and counterparts in the Diplomatic community.

We need a Representative who knows how to capitalize on the awesome opportunity presented by the Obama Administration and its sound doctrine and foreign policy in view of enhanced growth and development in Africa as a whole.

We need an able leader, who embodies Sonn, Sisulu, Masikela, Nhlapo and more. The consolation is that we have a deep poll to choose from, and I hope the Zuma Administration will "Do the right thing".


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