Politicos soon to be ambassadors?

Staff Writer | Sep 05, 2019
Several senior politicians are said to be awaiting confirmation of their appointment as ambassadors.

These are understood to include erstwhile ministers Nomaindia Mfeketo, Siyabonga Cwele and Bathabile Dlamini. Mfeketo was tipped to represent the country in the United States, Cwele in China.  There was no indication which post Dlamini might be appointed to.

Journalist Peter Fabricius – who regularly focuses on South Africa’s foreign affairs – said that this was viewed with scepticism by some career diplomats. He quoted one as saying that it would be harmful to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to attract investment: ‘The president’s strategy of trying to sell this country to the world will be badly undermined if the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) is to be used as a dumping ground for failed politicians.’

Using ambassadorships to accommodate politicians has long been a practice. In the 1990s, President Nelson Mandela appointed members of minority parties as ambassadors as a reconciliatory gesture. Members of the ruling African National Congress have been ‘deployed’ abroad when domestic political complications made a temporary exit expedient. Under President Zuma, the proportion of ambassadorships held by politically appointed incumbents reached some 82%.

However, despite the consideration of more political appointments, it was also believed that a larger pool of career diplomats was also under consideration – which might result in a net dilution of political appointments.

Concerns have been raised for some time about the efficacy of South Africa’s diplomatic representation abroad – including in the National Development Plan. Despite our country having one of the largest diplomatic footprints in the world, it is questionable whether this is enhancing South Africa’s ability to influence global developments in its favour, or to bring in economic and developmental benefits.


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