SA foreign services should be 'professionalised again' - former ambassador

2019-03-21 10:09
ANC secretary general Ace Magashule introducing new permanent employees at Luthuli House. Fikile Mbalula is head of elections and Febe Potgieter-Gqubule is the party's new general manager. Mahlatse Mahlase, News24)

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule introducing new permanent employees at Luthuli House. Fikile Mbalula is head of elections and Febe Potgieter-Gqubule is the party's new general manager. Mahlatse Mahlase, News24)

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South Africa's foreign services should be professionalised again, former ambassador Febe Potgieter-Gqubule has said.

Potgieter-Gqubule, who is also the ANC's general manager, told an audience at a public dialogue organised by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the School of Social Sciences of the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday that there should be discussions about "the revival of the foreign service cadette system, bringing people from university to see how they can make a career in the foreign service, so you can bring in young new talent in the foreign service across the country".

She acknowledged that staff at some South African embassies abroad sometimes get appointed without going through the necessary processes.

DA spokesperson for international relations Sandy Kalyan earlier said that South Africa's 125 missions abroad should be rationalised.

She added that there was no act of Parliament to formally control the foreign services, so things were being done on an ad hoc basis.

"Friends and family were deployed to missions as favours, or employed as personnel because someone needed a driver. You could take a whole family off to mission and they would be looked after [by being provided jobs]."

No mechanism to discipline ambassadors

She said South Africa's image had been tainted abroad because corruption and mismanagement were rife in embassies.

"Diplomats seemed to think they have superpowers because of diplomatic immunity, but they are not immune to drinking and driving and sexual harassment," she said.

She also added that the Department of International Relations had no mechanism to discipline ambassadors, which meant they knew they could get away with wrongdoing. There were also not proper criteria for the appointment of individuals as ambassadors.

Under former president Jacob Zuma, a number of politically problematic leaders were sent off to be ambassadors as punishment or reward, such as former ANC head of the presidency Smuts Ngonyama, who returned to the party after being a founder member of Cope, and Bruce Koloane, former head of protocol in the Presidency and fall guy after the Guptas landed their private plane filled with wedding guests at the Waterkloof air force base.

In the past there have also been instances where ambassadors were not held accountable, including former ambassador to Indonesia, Norman Mashabane, who was found guilty of sexual harassment in 2006 but was apparently protected from punishment.

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