Popular definitions of diplomats, which they all cite at the beginning of their speeches as a way of warming up the audience, mostly turn on the issue of evasiveness. So, for example, if a diplomat responds to a particular proposition with “Yes” he means “Maybe,” and if he says “Maybe” he means “No” and if he says no, he is no diplomat.
Nigel Casey, Britain’s new High Commissioner to South Africa, certainly can’t be accused of being a conventional diplomat. On a recent visit to Cape Town, he was asked in a Business Day interview whether he preferred biltong to droewors. His response was that he liked neither which, obviously, was hardly a diplomatic answer and wouldn’t have won him many friends. But as a consequence he probably will be taken more seriously on substantive matters.
And, as a good diplomat would, he reminded us at the outset of his interview that the UK is South Africa’s largest export market for agricultural products and an important destination for manufactured goods and other value-added exports. As a former colonial power, the UK remains heavily invested economically and socially in South Africa and contributes to foreign direct investment and other key areas such as education, science and institution-building.
Expressed in numbers Casey said, according to the SA Reserve Bank, 36 % of foreign direct investment stock comes from the UK. The value of annual two-way trade between the UK and South Africa is around £10 million, and in excess of 400,000 Brits come to South Africa every year on holiday, supporting the valuable tourism sector.
Of Brexit, which is of particular importance to The Cape Messenger, the High Commissioner said: “I see Brexit acting as a spur for the UK to reinvest more strongly in its relationship with South Africa. It always has been an important relationship for us but I think we haven’t invested as much as we might have done in recent years. We now have every motivation to put that right, so I expect us to be spending more time engaging South Africa across the board.”
We welcome this commitment. In fact we take it as an invitation. With a corporate presence in London and links with a number of senior and experienced British business people across a wide spectrum who are committed to assisting especially small, medium-sized and family businesses in finding markets, identifying partners and raising investment funding, we look forward to working closely with High Commissioner Nigel Casey and his colleagues.
Denis Worrall is the Founder of The Cape Messenger