Cynics here and elsewhere might think it appropriate that South Africa’s face overseas is that of a criminal accused

Readers might have observed last week’s moving ceremony in Hiroshima, when Barack Obama made history by becoming the first US president to visit the city America hit with an atom bomb in 1945 .

Less noticed, perhaps, was the tall, angular woman at his side throughout the event: Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of former president John F Kennedy and the US ambassador to Japan.

The South African ambassador to Japan, Mohau Pheko, carries considerably less political clout than Kennedy, and fewer qualifications.

Last year, the Financial Mail exposed that Pheko was the bearer of what is, alas, becoming a national characteristic: false qualifications. Back in 2009, she was appointed from obscurity to the plumb post of ambassador to Canada. The authorities in Ottawa did a background search and found that her claimed PhD did not exist.

The usual course would have been to recall her home, but her masters did something far more peculiar. They had in place a top-flight professional diplomat in Tokyo. So they sent him packing to Madagascar, to make way for Ms Pheko.

Extraordinary when you think that Japan is one of the most important economic trading partners with South Africa, and that the publicity which exploded around her transfer hardly indicated to the Japanese that we were serious in our diplomatic choices.

The cliché on “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” might come into play.

After all, back in 2009, I was appointed by President Jacob Zuma as South African ambassador to Argentina. The president told me that it was “important that the face South Africa shows to the world is not just an ANC face”.

With a dedicated staff, we set about improving the terms of trade, tourism arrival, sporting and cultural ties between the two countries with some success.

I viewed the job as being a salesman for the country.

It certainly had nothing to do with party politics but everything to do with country performance.

In my mission there I was also assisted by the visits of no fewer than 11 cabinet ministers and deputy ministers. Their ANC backgrounds and my DA lineage never once touched upon our common endeavours across the South Atlantic.

But what did impact mightily on my times there were the security checks and regular audits to which I and my embassy were subjected. Everything from a lie- detector test to filling out a form in excruciating detail on every subject I ever passed at university and any tiny item which might embarrass South Africa.

Quite where such scrutiny was in Ms Pheko’s case is inexplicable.

But two more recent cases suggest that ambassadorial posts are not just dumping grounds for discarded cadres, but a sort of new rogue’s gallery.

Accused No1 is the current South African High Commissioner to Australia, Sbu Ndebele. He is currently an accused in a massive fraud and corruption case, and was in December indicted for accepting R10-million in bribes from a company which wrongfully had its contract with the Department of Transport, then headed by Ndebele.

Cynics here and elsewhere might think it a good fit for the current South Africa’s face overseas to be that of a criminal accused. Others might remind us that the face of your ambassador is, in fact, the face of a country abroad.
Also outed in a recent press exposé was our deputy ambassador to Burundi. Nosithembele Mapisa – the sister of Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula – allegedly smuggled a fugitive out of the country on false documents.

She was apparently suspended, but perhaps another post will, in due course, be found for her. Readers might recall that the only fall guy for the Guptas’ landing illegally at Waterkloof air force base was head of protocol Bruce Koloane. He took the blame and was demoted. But lo and behold, a few months later, w as the ambassador to the Netherlands. – The Times