Pretoria's Envoy Applauds Warm Korea Relations

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Pretoria's Envoy Applauds Warm Korea Relations

Isaac Kekana remembers exactly where he was when Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa: he was at home watching the news with his mother. "It was a day of happiness and sorrow," recalls Mr. Kekana, charge d'affaires and the acting ambassador of South Africa.

Since Mr. Mandela's inauguration in 1994, South Africa has been caught in a flux of change. Putting its nightmare history of apartheid to sleep, the country has been forging ahead, trying to transform its society and embrace an international community. One of South Africa's new bedfellows was South Korea.

The two countries share a common history of subjugation by outsiders. Since Korea shook off the grip of colonial rule five decades ago, the South African community has been looking here for inspiration and new business opportunities, which brought several winemakers to Korea several weeks ago (see story, left).

Mr. Kekana, who is moving back to South Africa in the fall, sat down with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition to talk about the new South Africa and relations between the two countries.

IHT: What's the role of winemakers in the new South Africa?

Kekana: The winemakers represent the new South Africa, the young people who will change the nation. They were schooled abroad and brought their knowledge back to Africa. South Africa is now the seventh largest wine producer in the world. The wine makers may not be black, but freedom in the new Africa is not just for blacks, it is for everybody.

IHT: As someone part of the new Africa, what experiences will you be bringing back?

Kekana: I will share my story and tell people, "I've seen a country that was very poor but made a turnaround." Koreans have achieved so much since the Korean War. They are dedicated to getting more educated to compete globally. A bright future is possible for South Africa.

IHT: What sort of relations exist between the two countries?

Kekana: Korea is very much in the mind of South Africa. One year after Nelson Mandela became president, he made a trip to Korea and made some agreements, many about human resource development. When I came here four years ago, my first project was to implement these.

In 1997, we established the executive development project and the national trade testing project as part of the Korean Overseas Development Aid project.

There are now over 200 South Africans in Korea. In South Africa, there is a growing Korean community, especially doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs and professors. There are more than 2,000 families. Housing is much cheaper than Korea. We have a wonderful climate and can maintain a European-standard lifestyle coupled with an African spirit. There's something unique about Africa. You get there and you forget you've been troubled for so long.

by Joe Yong-hee

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