OPINION | US envoy to SA: Amid change, an enduring partnership will remain

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President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Marine One as they depart the White House on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Marine One as they depart the White House on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

With the inauguration of Joe Biden as the US's 46th president, there was a change of transition of authority that played out in government offices across America and US embassies around the world. John Groarke, the Charge d'Affaires ad interim at the US Embassy explains.


As President Joe Biden took his historic oath of office at noon in Washington on Wednesday, the US diplomatic presence here in South Africa underwent a parallel transition.  

On Wednesday evening, at 19:00 local time, I assumed responsibility for leading the US mission in South Africa on a temporary basis.

There was no pomp and parades, no speeches or ceremonies, just a dry diplomatic note from the US Embassy to South Africa's Department of International Relations and Cooperation. But these two events - President Biden's inauguration and my own new responsibilities - were linked by a common thread: the transition of authority in a democratic system that played out in government offices across America and in US embassies around the world.

Ongoing struggle

There has been unusual attention on the US transition this year. We had all become accustomed to a boring, bureaucratic process. Even as we have a spirited debate about so many issues, I think every American would agree: this year was not boring.

Thanks to vibrant free media in the United States and here in South Africa, I do not need to tell you about everything that has happened over the past 10 months. South Africans have followed with interest and commented with wisdom and intelligence on events in my own country. To this healthy discussion, let me offer some reflections on the US-South Africa relationship in the context of America's ongoing transition.

As I read articles, side-by-side in South African newspapers, about America's and South Africa's challenges, it occurs to me: Neither of us pretends our country or our society is perfect. To the contrary, we recognise that our strength lies in being open about our past and honest about our ongoing struggle to live up to our principles. We admit that democracy is messy, especially in the short term, but we would never sacrifice our rights for the illusion of stability that authoritarianism claims to offer.

That profound commitment to our shared values is the bedrock of our relationship. But in the last 25 years, across successive US administrations, we have built a partnership that benefits Americans and South Africans.  

READ | Biden facing competing crises as he takes office

Our health experts worked together to turn the tide against HIV, including to save lives and to ensure those affected by AIDS can live healthy and productive lives. And the US government donation of a thousand ventilators, PPE, a field hospital, and our partnership with South African health experts on development of a vaccine is saving South African lives. 

Our agricultural experts have teamed up with agricultural producers to open markets and share best practices to benefit farmers and consumers in both countries. Our educational institutions have partnered to expand access to quality education at all levels, and to advance scientific discovery, historic research, and our understanding of the challenges facing humankind. Our companies have partnered to create innovative products and jobs that improve life and increase prosperity. 

Our police and judicial authorities have teamed up to investigate, prosecute, and sentence transnational criminals, making our citizens safer. And our artists have collaborated to create new masterpieces, enriching our lives. Equally important, we remain committed to expanding dialogues across all sectors on  diversity, inclusion and racial injustice.

Rest assured, this important work to propel our bilateral relationship continues unabated, despite the transitions in Washington and here in Pretoria.  

Lana Marks

We will miss the tireless diplomacy of Lana Marks, who is a passionate champion of South Africa-US ties. But we will continue to build on her accomplishments and those of the illustrious ambassadors who preceded her.  

Someday soon, South Africa will welcome a new US ambassador, nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the US Senate.

Until then, the members of the US Mission to South Africa will continue delivering - with action, not promises - to improve the health, prosperity, and security of both our countries and to work together to help oppressed people around the world enjoy the same fundamental freedoms South Africans and Americans have fought for and cherish today.

John Groarke is Charge d'Affaires ad interim at the US Embassy. As a career foreign service officer with the United States Agency for International Development, he has served for more than 20 years in nine different countries under Republican and Democratic administrations. 


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