Don Makatile

Don Makatile

If you thought the raison d'etre of the Helen Zille-led Democratic Alliance (DA), as the official opposition, was to disagree with the government, you have another think coming.

The height of a political career inside the DA, it would seem of late, is to defend the ANC government!

Ambassadorial postings are flowing in thick and fast in Zille's neck of the woods, and the appointees are rubbing their hands in glee. The minute they accept, every negative the opposition has thrown at the door of the government appears to morph into a positive attribute to be shouted from the rooftops of foreign platforms.

First it was Douglas Gibson, the former DA chief whip, who was also the party's spokesman on foreign affairs. During his tenure in the opposition benches, the ANC-led government could do nothing right, a "fact" he never missed the opportunity to tell the world about.

These days he's our main man in Thailand, articulating the very position he felt duty-bound to trash in parliament. At the time of his departure for the east, Gibson reportedly said of former president Thabo Mbeki and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Foreign Affairs Minister: "It says a lot for both of them that they are prepared to honour a DA loyalist and a strong Helen Zille supporter in this way. That they trust me to represent our country sends out a strong message that our democracy includes us all."

Close on the heels of Gibson's seconding to Bangkok comes another DA appointment, in fact two. Veteran opposition politician Sheila Camerer, who says she's the same age as Gibson - both were born in 1942 - will take up her position as South Africa's ambassador to Bulgaria.

She's excited about this new role: "I can't wait to get there."

In her euphoria she tells Sowetan that Sandra Botha, currently leader of the DA in parliament, is off to Prague where she'll be her opposite number in the Czech Republic.

"This has just restarted something that was prevalent in the (Nelson) Mandela era," says Camerer about these DA appointments to foreign lands.

She cites the example of former Progressive Federal Party leader Zac de Beer's appointment to Holland, and former University of the Western Cape academic Dick van der Ross to Spain.

Camerer echoes Douglas' view that the posting is a "sign of political maturity on the part of the ANC", a sentiment further shared by Professor Sipho Seepe, president of the South African Institute of Race Relations.

After 22 years in opposition politics Camerer says "it's a great honour to represent one's country". She does not think there's a chasm of difference in the political views of the ruling ANC and her own party. "After five years in constitutional negotiations with the ANC, I think there's a lot of common ground."

Her brief, which she gladly accepts, is in her view, "for the good of the country". She's already had briefings with the suits at Trade and Industry who have shared their expectations with her, and she's left the meetings satisfied that "the name of the game is economic diplomacy".

The call from Mbeki came just as she was pondering her way forward, she says, adding ambassadorial postings usually came to politicians in the twilight of their careers.

Her letters of credence were signed by President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Married with grown-up children, Camerer is taking her husband, Alex, along to Sofia.

The bags are packed and she will fly out as soon as she completes her course at Foreign Affairs.

ANC spokesperson Lindiwe Zulu, a former ambassador to Brazil, rubbishes the view that cadres in her movement, soon to be jobless after the dissolution of Parliament, look at ambassadorial postings with a sense of entitlement.

"The appointment of ambassadors rests with the deployment committee."

There are normal postings of career diplomats done by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she says, and political appointments like the move that saw her plucked from the private sector to the job in Brazil.

Zulu says it would be myopic of senior ANC members to look at these jobs as payback for their loyalty to the party. She says it is a case of the best man for the job, from when Mandela had IFP members sent overseas to sell SA.

She also denies that the appointment of ex-Limpopo MEC Justice Pitso as ambassador to Cuba was to stop him from jumping ship to Cope.