New US ambassador: 'Trump thinks Cape Town is beautiful, I want him to visit'

US ambassador to SA, Lana Marks. (Pieter du Toit, News24)
US ambassador to SA, Lana Marks. (Pieter du Toit, News24)

Newly minted US ambassador to Pretoria, Lana Marks, says she wants President Donald Trump to visit South Africa and that he believes Cape Town is "beautiful".

"I would love nothing more than President Trump to visit South Africa. I know that President Trump was personally very anxious for me to arrive here and when I became his candidate (for the ambassadorship) in November 2016 he personally told me how beautiful Cape Town was."

It is not known whether Trump has visited Cape Town in the past.

Marks, speaking in a perfect Eastern Cape accent (she was born in East London) with nary a hint of a Florida drawl (she lives in Palm Beach), had her first public engagement on Wednesday since arriving in the country over the weekend.

The US has been without an ambassador in South Africa since January 2017 when Patrick Gaspard left.

Lana Marks

US ambassador Lana Marks speaking at a press conference in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Wednesday. (Pieter du Toit, News24)

She said her most important Afrikaans words are "baie dankie" (thank you very much) before adding in clipped Afrikaans: "Ek was heeltemal tweetalig" (I used to be fully bilingual).

She also spoke some isiXhosa, saying "molo, kunjani?" (hello, how are you?) before apologising that she's "a bit rusty".

Speaking at the US consulate in Sandton, she said her top priority will be to improve trade relations between the countries and to become South Africa's number one trading partner.

"The US is already South Africa's third largest trading partner, with two-way trade in 2018 valued at $13,7bn, or over R203bn. As you'll soon learn about me, I'm not one to settle for third place."

Marks was sworn in as ambassador last month after a lengthy confirmation process in the US Senate. She put the delay down to the fact that over the past 15 years she visited 110 countries on business which led to a protracted vetting process.

Marks is the owner of a successful luxury handbag brand that operates outlets in the US, Europe and the Far East. Her Palm Beach branch "caters to many of the world's wealthiest customers during the height of the Palm Beach Social Season," her website reads.

Lana Marks

Increasing trade and investment between the US and South Africa will be her top priority, says new US ambassador Lana Marks. (Pieter du Toit, News24)

Asked if she would assist US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate rural crime and land expropriation, as he was mandated to do by Trump, Marks said violent crime in the country is a problem and that she trusts the South African government was doing all it could to prevent crime. There have also been no land invasions as far as the US government was concerned.

"We trust that the process around expropriation will be transparent," she said.

Describing South Africa as "the democratic and economic leader of the world’s fastest growing continent" she said the US government "at all levels" are positive about that country’s relationship with South Africa and expanding trade, business and investment opportunities is a priority for the Trump Administration.

Marks emphasised that the US is South Africa's largest source of foreign direct investment and that American companies employ more than 200 000 people locally.

She wants to be a "matchmaker" for local companies seeking to expand to the US, Marks added.

Lana Marks

Framed pictures of US President Donald Trump, flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and Vice-President Mike Pence, inside the US consulate in Sandton, Johannesburg. (Pieter du Toit, News24)

"President Trump has always been very anxious for me to get to South Africa, he's told me that, he wanted me to get here as soon as possible and we want to greatly increase our already robust partnership together. We want to tremendously, tremendously increase trade and investment between our two countries.

"We want to achieve epidemic control with HIV/Aids and we want to do even more, though there are a tremendous amount of US programmes (in South Africa) we want to increase these dramatically to assist with jobs for youth, for youth and women’s empowerment," Marks said.

She attempted to allay fears that South Africa could lose its preferential trading status under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), saying that the US and South African governments were working together to iron out differences.

"South Africa enjoys all the opportunities under the act," she added.

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