It is not the intention of this memoir to catalogue my life from birth. Equally, what follows is neither a blow-by-blow account of the varied careers I have pursued nor a presentation of an egotistical journey or a sharing of life philosophies. It is also not an attempt to provide a detailed historical narrative of events. When the context requires this, I quote briefly from or refer to authors who supply such detail in depth and with much more authority than I can muster. A full catalogue of these sources is contained in a volume that I presented to the African Studies Centre Leiden (ASCL), the only multidisciplinary academic knowledge institute in the Netherlands devoted entirely to the study of Africa and an interfaculty institute of Leiden University.
My objective, rather, is to reflect on some of the events that I had been fortunate to have observed from close range or in which I had been privileged to have been involved. ln some of these I occupied a particular vantage point. Looking back, I have no regrets about the choices I have made or the decisions I have taken in my professional careers or private life.
The names of places and of persons and their positions are given in their proper historical context. Using first names of personalities denotes no disrespect; instead, it serves the useful purpose of ridding this account of the burden of formality.
References to family are limited and included only to provide context in certain circumstances or instances.
My experience and involvement in South Africa’s diplomacy covers a period of 27 years. Readers will be apprised of events that have until now not been told, or in some cases developments are placed in a new context. I started my career when Hendrik Verwoerd was prime minister, thereafter serving under and receiving ambassadorial appointments from John Vorster, P.W. Botha, F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. Therefore, my career straddles three divergent periods of South Africa’s history and diplomacy.
The era of apartheid was beset with international adversity. Explaining govemment policies almost always proved insurmountable. The indefensible had to be justified. Hence, the period of political transition was a breath of fresh air. South Africa could be readmitted to full membership of the international community. But it was a slow process. The many critics who still harboured ill feelings towards South Africa regarded many of the changes as not having gone far and quickly enough for South Africa to resume its seat at the international table of nations yet. For the first time South African diplomats could not only explain policies but could justify and defend them. The skunklabel made way for gradual acceptance.
The third period started with the inauguration of President Mandela when all the world was convinced that South Africa had launched itself on an irreversible journey to enjoying full democratic statehood in the proper sense of the word, a situation that the international community had not only expected but demanded over so many decades. To represent South Africa under this new set of circumstances was a pleasure and joy. Finally, the country’s diplomats could enjoy their profession – that is, promoting their country – without having to endure animosity.
For twenty of those years, I closely dealt with the Namibian question. ln all that time, it was South Africa’s main international concern and the focus of its foreign policy. I was present at the cutting edge of that policy. lt was beneficial that this burden of many decades was relieved at about the same time as South Africa moved out from under the cloud of apartheid that perpetually soured international discourse.
ln all my years as a diplomat I was determined not to act or be seen as an apologist for the government. It was most important to behave as a reliable interlocutor and to always remain credible. Criticism had to be distilled so that positive angles could be used to enhance performance. The all-important diplomatic tool of networking required endless attention. Soon it became clear to me that to play a meaningful role in the international arena a diplomat had to be an international adviser to his government. Geopolitical views and geostrategic considerations became increasingly important, and the world was more interconnected than ever before. Understanding the global system was an inevitable requirement. This era also demanded of a diplomat to make difficult decisions in the interests of his country without necessarily having been instructed to do so. Acting as an international adviser required that one, more than ever, be instrumental in the decision-making processes affecting peace and national security. This interdisciplinary role had become a challenging one that required skilful footwork.
My five years at the SABC were an extraordinary experience with many highlights and major achievements despite the whimsical behavior of President Botha and the altercations he had with me.
Being a political consultant on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange at the end of the 1980s afforded me the opportunity to explain to senior corporate clients the importance of international occurrences and their consequential relevance for and impact on South Africa.
My return to the diplomatic fold, in the form of twenty months as South Africa’s first ambassador to an independent Namibia, was fortuitous. The posting to the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies in Geneva was at the request of Mr Mandela in 1991 to focus on the socio-economic benefits South Africa could derive from them. Turkey presented different challenges and the additional diplomatic accreditation to Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan exposed me to the circumstances of these countries five years after they had left the USSR.
My experience in international affairs enabled me to offer authoritative guidance to several local and international companies in their business involvements and endeavours to successfully comprehend the political environment prevailing in Southern Africa. Following my doctoral thesis in 2018, a new field in the academic world opened to me: I became author of a book, a publisher of numerous articles in international and national publications, participant in several international conferences, and, recently, a visiting professor at an international law school.