It is not every day that one gets access to people of such high office as the United States Ambassador to South Africa. It is even less likely for one to be granted private audience with such an individual, after all, this is the personal representative of the President of the United States in South Africa—no doubt one of the busiest people in the world. Thus, the SAWIP Class of 2012 was doubly privileged to be hosted by The Honourable Ambassador Donald Gips at the US Consulate-General in Cape Town on Tuesday 29 May.
Ambassador Gips and the US Consul-General in Cape Town, Ms Erica Barks-Ruggles, met with the team of bright-eyed and eager SAWIPers for a two-hour session of open and honest conversation about our two countries, South Africa and the United States. The two diplomats, each with an extensive history of work in the public service, offered some insight into the role that they play in South Africa as representatives of the American people and government, and were in turn quizzed on issues as wide-ranging and as serious as race, constitutionalism, development in Africa and inter-state rivalry in a world of finite resources. The diplomats were certainly challenged—indeed it would be against the spirit of SAWIP for the team to be anything but robust—but each question was answered with candour and with care.
A focus of the conversation was on taking a comparative look at American and South African society. Most members of the team had never been to the US before; fewer still had been there in a professional or representative capacity, and it was important for the team to get a sense of what they could expect in that country. In this regard the ambassador and the consul-general were of immense assistance, both having spent a significant part of their careers living and working in their nation’s capital. Once the discussion was over the team was treated to light refreshment.
It was a great honour for the SAWIP Class of 2012 to have been afforded the opportunity to engage at such a high level in such an open manner—this especially so close to our journey across the sea to the District of Columbia. Many thanks are due to the staff of the US Consulate-General in Cape Town, particularly to Ms Cynthia Brown (Public Diplomacy Officer) and Mr. Nate Holt (Public Diplomacy Officer) who facilitated the SAWIP team’s visit. Much was learnt; even more was pocketed for further pondering. Mostly, however, the ‘diplomatic discussion’ served to unstop the flow of excitement that was stowed away in the recesses of the team’s exam-stressed minds.
Kwadwo Ofori Owusu (SAWIP 2012 Team Member)