Interview with a diplomat of the Spanish embassy in South Africa.


Written by: Alberto Hernández Nieto.

Interviewed: Marisol Lana Flores.

How were you sent to South Africa and what was your duty there?

Once in the diplomatic corps you have two options, having a post in Spain to go to the international institutions, but always working from our country, or working in different commercial offices that are located in different countries. In the commercial offices, organically you depend on the ambassador from the embassy you are in, but functionally you depend on the Economy Minister of your country. First  I asked for a post in Praha, but because of my seniority, the post was given to another person, so I was sent to Johannesburg. Our job there was giving all type of assessment to people related to our country who wanted to do business in South Africa.

How come that South Africa , a country that monopolizes 25% of the Gross Domestic Product of all the country has an unemployment rate of ¼ of the total population and that these unemployed live with less than 1.25 dollars a day?

There are several important facts to understand this; the first one is immigration. A lot of people come from all the bordering countries to work in South Africa. These people are added to the population already existing there with few job opportunities. The other fact is the big exodus that exist from the country to the city; hundreds of thousands of people who live in the rural area and that most of them are not registered in the census, so they are not in the official statistics;  all this creates a huge amount of people with no type of preparation and therefore with no access to a job. With reference to the black South African university student population, the first generation of university students is very recent; it was from the 2003-2004. This fact is important to understand the scarce proportion of qualified people. All this promotes big pockets of poverty, centered historically in the country, but gradually extended to the urban centers.

Figures indicate 50.000 homicides each year, so it is one of the African countries with biggest crime rates, what is your experience and your opinion about this problem?

In the time we were there we didn´t have any problem with this, but you have to take into account that we followed conscientiously all the security measures that we were told by the embassy, it´s not a country where you can move around peacefully from one place to the other. In fact, you can´t find a lot of people walking on the street, only around watched areas: commercial centers, crowded parks and specially touristic/commercial areas. It´s true that there are a lot of homicides and robberies, specially at the weekends. The burglaries and attacks in houses are carried out with intimidation and murder. You have to add to this the racial problem; historically white people in South Africa feel threatened by the black community, that´s why they are strongly armed.

The 17th August 2012, there was a slaughter that went all around the world. The one about the miners in Lanmin who asked for better working conditions.34 miners died. This episode recalled clearly the apartheid violence, as from its abolition there had never been such a big slaughter. What message do we get from this fact?

To be able to understand this we have to know the cause of the problem; the mining trade union (NUM) was created by the family of Sr Ramaposa, a well-known multimillionaire. The negotiations of this person with the African national congress have been very important for the democracy being installed in this country. This person considered himself very important and it was said he would become Mandela´s successor , but he dedicated himself to do business and started to get rich, that´s why miners don´t feel represented by this person any more, they see he doesn´t defend their interests and that he doesn´t deserve being their trade union representative, that´s why all those violent protests took place the day of  the slaughter.

With eight wifes and 18 children, Jacob Zuma is the current leader of the African national congress, he also has 783 corruption and rape accusations, nevertheless  he got his presence after reaching a 70% in the last election. How is this possible?  Which is the president´s reputation is his own country?

The data about his wives and kids is irrelevant as this is something usual and it is seen as something normal. The issue about the accusations is true. In spite of this, he is very skilful man politically, he comes from a very humble family, his mother was a maid, he´s not like other ex-presidents who have studied in western countries; despite of all this he´s had a great career and now counts with an important political prominence. He is very much appreciated inside the party.

The new legislation proposed by the African national congress proposes the prohibition for many white people to get posts which are exclusively reserved for black people; this and other changes of a certain discriminatory character, are making the emigration rates increase on the part of these affected communities. Some statistics collect data on more than 1.000.000 white people emigrating since 1994. It seems as if South Africa has always been immersed in racial problems. Do you think the current government is not doing the right thing to solve this problem or it´s just a consequence of a dark past? Is the CAN in the right thing?

The past has a lot of weight on the current situation, on the other hand the CNA hasn´t assimilated its mission, what Mandela wanted, they have become bourgeois, they have fallen into an kind of apathy, they have forgotten about their own compatriots and lot of injustice in their country. Either they recover the right way again or it could fall in decadence, the example is that the abstention that is raising , as the population don´t feel in them because most of the population has remained where it was. This could turn out into a big problem in the future.

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