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We’ve seen a re­newed civil so­ci­ety act in a way that not only re­volves around pol­i­tics, but around real is­sues as well

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Al­though he sub­tly cam­paigned against Trump at this year’s July 4 func­tion at Hill House, say­ing “we will never al­low the pol­i­tics of per­for­mance to trump the pol­i­tics of prin­ci­ple”, he tries to re­main pos­i­tive about what the next four years hold for his coun­try – and its re­la­tions with South Africa.

“It’s al­ways dif­fi­cult to make pre­dic­tions about what any pres­i­dent elect will do, but in this in­stance, it’s harder than usual,” he said.

The US elec­tion cam­paign was per­son­al­ity-fo­cused and “did not el­e­vate with real speci­ficity the is­sues that need to have been lit­i­gated in any elec­tion con­test”.

He was proud, though, that 120 mil­lion Amer­i­cans voted and abided by a re­sult that saw the win­ner of the pop­u­lar vote by 2.7 mil­lion bal­lots, Hil­lary Clin­ton, lose the pres­i­den­tial race.

“Pres­i­dent-elect Trump has al­ready made a num­ber of key crit­i­cal selec­tions and in many in­stances you can be­gin to make some pro­jec­tions on what the philoso­phies of those par­tic­u­lar Cabi­net sec­re­taries will be,” he said. The rest will be known af­ter Jan­uary 20, when Trump is sworn in and a new am­bas­sador here is ap­pointed – a process that could take about nine months.

AGOA AND YALI TO CON­TINUE

Africa was, how­ever, “not a sub­ject that en­joyed a deep dive in this cam­paign, so there are more ques­tions than an­swers”.

Gas­pard, how­ever, said the US had “an in­cred­i­ble core lead­er­ship in our for­eign ser­vice in the state de­part­ment and that con­tin­ues from pres­i­dency to pres­i­dency” and the “ma­te­rial and in­tel­lec­tual” in­vest­ments the US has al­ready made here would con­tinue.

For one, the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (Agoa) – re­cently re­newed “for an un­prece­dented 10 years” – which will re­main in place de­spite Trump’s prom­ises to scrap in­ter­na­tional trade agree­ments.

There were pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions about US chicken im­ports. “I never thought I would spend so much time in South Africa fo­cussed ob­ses­sively on poul­try,” he says.

The diplo­matic chal­lenge now is ne­go­ti­at­ing the postA­goa scene.

“$2 bil­lion [R28 bil­lion] of South African goods en­ter the US duty-free. While Agoa is good, it is still a oneway trade pref­er­ence. We need to evolve our eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship into a bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship,” he said.

The 600 US busi­nesses in­vested in South Africa – with a turnover that equals 10% of this coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct – would not go away ei­ther “and that is go­ing to force pol­i­cy­mak­ers to lean in”.

Gas­pard also hoped the pop­u­lar Young African Lead­ers Ini­tia­tive (Yali), launched by Obama in 2010, would con­tinue.

The 1 000 ap­pli­ca­tions from three years ago have in­creased three­fold, and ap­pli­ca­tions have al­ready been done for the 2017 pro­gramme.

There was sup­port among both Repub­li­cans and Democrats for Yali, the same pro­gramme ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe has ac­cused of try­ing to ef­fect “regime change” in South Africa.

Gas­pard’s re­sponse to the claims aimed to sting as much as it be­trayed his own hurt. “I’m so dis­ap­pointed as I al­ways imag­ined that if I or­gan­ised a coup it would look like Mardi Gras – food, mu­sic, dance,” he tweeted at the time.

Ditto with claims by deputy de­fence min­is­ter Kebby Maphat­soe that for­mer pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela was a US spy.

“While I made light of some of it, it is a very se­ri­ous charge that should never have been made,” Gas­pard said. “It’s an in­sult to US em­bassy staff who worked hard ‘to make good on the vi­sion of Nelson Man­dela’, in­clud­ing build­ing a school in Lim­popo at a time when about 20 oth­ers were be­ing burnt down in ser­vicede­liv­ery protests,” he said.

DIPLO­MATIC HICCUPS

Gas­pard’s affin­ity for South African pol­i­tics has caused a diplo­matic blip of its own.

For a while there were rum­blings in the Bri­tish High Com­mis­sioner’s res­i­dence nearby about his tooen­thu­si­as­tic em­brace of the colo­nial nar­ra­tive min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu brought up in her speech at the July 4 cel­e­bra­tions at Hill House last year.

This bridge was mended when, about two weeks ago, he said re­la­tions with Dame Judith MacGre­gor, Bri­tish High Com­mis­sioner to South Africa, were now so good that he dis­agreed with the say­ing “good fences make for good neigh­bours”.

LIFE AF­TER SOUTH AFRICA

From next year Gas­pard will be able to com­bine his “sense of mis­sion” and de­sire to ad­vance Obama’s vi­sion as vice-pres­i­dent of phi­lan­thropist Ge­orge Soros’ Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tion.

“It will al­low me to con­tinue to work on is­sues of trans­parency and good gov­er­nance in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa and across the globe, is­sues of equal jus­tice for all in the US, and what hap­pens to the col­lec­tive work­ers’ voice in this dig­i­tal econ­omy that we find our­selves in,” he said.

The “dis­lo­ca­tions” and “po­lar­i­sa­tion” ex­ac­er­bated by new me­dia such as Twit­ter and Face­book are es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing to him.

His wife, Raina, a teacher, and his two chil­dren aged 16 and 19, al­ready left four months ago to start the new school year in the US.

The plan is to live in Wash­ing­ton, DC, for now un­til his daugh­ter grad­u­ates from col­lege, and then per­haps to move back to Brook­lyn, New York, “the cen­tre of my uni­verse”.

South Africa has taught his chil­dren a lot about rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and re­silience. “All of us will miss South Africa every sin­gle day. This is a great coun­try,” he said.

South Africa will miss him too – in­clud­ing that goat.

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