THE UK’S new man IN SA

Nigel Casey’s ap­point­ment as high com­mis­sioner brings him back to a coun­try that must main­tain a strong diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship with Bri­tain

CityPress - - News -

The day Bri­tish vot­ers went out to cast their bal­lots for the sec­ond time in a year, their new high com­mis­sioner to South Africa spoke isiZulu. Sadly, Nigel Casey’s isiZulu is nowhere near as good as his Rus­sian – the ca­reer diplo­mat of 26 years has also been posted in Moscow – and he laughed in­stead of re­peat­ing what he was groomed to tell Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma upon ac­cept­ing his diplo­matic cre­den­tials in Pre­to­ria on June 8.

Later that evening, his of­fi­cial ar­rival was cel­e­brated at a func­tion that dou­bled as an elec­tions watch party. He had gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from the cur­rent and pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, di­plo­mats and other hang­er­son in stitches when he re­called meet­ing Nel­son Man­dela when he was based in Jo­han­nes­burg as vice­con­sul. He said he had a Madiba mo­ment, but couldn’t prove it, when he at­tended a Queen’s birth­day cel­e­bra­tion at the of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Waterk­loof, Pre­to­ria, soon af­ter ar­riv­ing in South Africa in 1993.

Nel­son Man­dela made a speech at the party and met ev­ery staff mem­ber, from the am­bas­sador to the chefs.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher didn’t think that was a suf­fi­ciently his­toric mo­ment to record,” Casey said wryly. “They didn’t have dig­i­tal cam­eras, and they had to be care­ful how they used their film.”

As a con­so­la­tion prize, Casey is now liv­ing in the house, which is still dec­o­rated with pic­tures of Man­dela. Back in 1993, the house was oc­cu­pied by am­bas­sador An­thony Reeve, who was close to Madiba.

“It was a very great hon­our to meet Man­dela,” Casey said. “I sub­se­quently met him a num­ber of times at [then ANC head­quar­ters] Shell House and on the elec­tion trails.”

Casey also had to fa­cil­i­tate of­fi­cial vis­its by the Queen and then prime min­is­ter John Ma­jor.

Casey’s easy de­meanour will come in handy as the UK en­ters in­ter­est­ing times. Two-year-long Brexit talks started in Brus­sels on Monday af­ter the elec­tion re­sults the week be­fore un­ex­pect­edly weak­ened Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s hand.

City Press spoke to Casey on Wed­nes­day in his large of­fice in Greystoke, a grand, cen­tury-old home wrapped in bur­glar bars and hid­den behind a high fence and three sets of se­cu­rity gates. He said the next cou­ple of years wouldn’t only be sig­nif­i­cant for the UK, but would also be an im­por­tant time in South Africa as Zuma’s sec­ond and fi­nal term ends in 2019.

Casey wouldn’t say how Zuma’s pos­si­ble suc­ces­sors – the busi­ness-friendly Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, no-non­sense Nkosazana DlaminiZuma, or even some­one from the cur­rent op­po­si­tion – could af­fect re­la­tions, and said the diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship “goes well beyond party politics”.

“We will work with whomever, it goes with­out say­ing,” he said.

Bri­tain’s exit from the EU, through which it has chan­nelled its trade, will have an af­fect on its in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion­ships – in­clud­ing with South Africa.

It was pos­si­ble that Com­mon­wealth re­la­tions could be­come more sig­nif­i­cant, Casey said, and op­ti­misti­cally added that re­la­tions could be re­shaped “to the best ad­van­tage of both coun­tries”.

Dur­ing Casey’s first post­ing to South Africa at the end of apartheid and as it was tran­si­tion­ing to democ­racy, the coun­try ex­pe­ri­enced some “bleak and dif­fi­cult days”, he said, but it came out “stronger on the other side, with the ac­claim of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity”.

This gave him a “long-term view” on diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the coun­tries, which had re­mained as “broad and deep” as it was two decades ago, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the SA Re­serve Bank, a third of South Africa’s for­eign in­vest­ment – R739 bil­lion – comes from the UK, which made it the big­gest for­eign in­vestor in the coun­try, Casey said. The trade re­la­tion­ship with South Africa is worth £10 bil­lion (R164 bil­lion) a year.

Casey knows the political im­por­tance of stress­ing that this is a two-way thing, and that Bri­tain didn’t only look to South Africa for raw ma­te­ri­als, but also went higher up the value chain by buy­ing “the best qual­ity South African wine” – and Ford Rangers.

Many South African com­pa­nies have also set up shop in Lon­don.

“It’s a dy­namic and liv­ing re­la­tion­ship that is chang­ing all the time,” he said.

Casey leaves the UK amid a spate of ter­ror at­tacks, re­flected by the tight se­cu­rity that is in place around the high commission.

Last year, the UK For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice joined the US in say­ing there was a “high threat from ter­ror­ism” in places fre­quented by for­eign­ers in Jo­han­nes­burg and Cape Town, and re­la­tions were strained when the South African gov­ern­ment re­acted with in­dig­na­tion.

Casey would not be drawn into say­ing how he would han­dle sim­i­lar spats, but said the UK had “a good di­a­logue with South Africa about the global threat”.

The re­cent deadly at­tacks in Lon­don and Manchester were a re­minder that the ter­ror threat was shared and could also af­fect South Africans who went to Lon­don, he said.

The next four years will not be all work for Casey, his wife and two chil­dren. It’s the whole fam­ily’s first time in the coun­try, and Casey said South Africa was “full of fab­u­lous places” to go to – which was why about 400 000 Bri­tish tourists came here each year.

South Africa’s “amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of the wild” was unique – as was the food, he said, sin­gling out Dur­ban curry and the boere­wors served at a wel­com­ing staff braai.

The mopani worms he ate two decades ago also got a men­tion (yes, he swal­lowed), but that’s one dish he’s in no hurry to try again.

GLO­BE­TROT­TER Nigel Casey took up his new post at the be­gin­ning of this month

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