South Africa is considering opening a diplomatic outpost in Atlanta as business and cultural connections pick up between Africa‘s largest economy and the Southeast U.S., one of the country’s fastest-growing regions.
While looking at members of the Atlanta consular corps in the audience, South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool wondered aloud during his Nov. 7 luncheon speech if his country was falling behind the times.
“If all of you fine countries like Great Britain, Turkey, Ireland and others are here, then it’s time that I think South Africa might really consider whether its absence in a great city like Atlanta and a great state like Georgia is justified or not,” he said while opening an event hosted by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta at the Commerce Club downtown.
Mr. Rasool noted that Atlanta has a special place in his heart as the city where Coca-Cola Co. launched its global expansion. Mr. Rasool’s father put him through college by driving a Coke truck in Cape Town.
Atlanta also has a long history of civil rights activism that it shared with his country during the dark days of apartheid and thereafter. That quality has resonates for Mr. Rasool, who established a foundation focusing on interfaith dialogue and speaks eloquently on tolerance between races and religions.
But there are also more recent signs that Georgia is growing its links with Africa. Part of Mr. Rasool’s itinerary during his recent visit was speaking at Savannah State University, which was hosting a model African Union conference with many participating universities.
In the past few months, South Africa’s deputy minister of trade has visited Atlanta, as well as a delegation including economic officials from the province of Gauteng, which is home to the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. From Nov. 10-16, a delegation of legislators from Kwazulu-Natal province is visiting Atlanta to share practices on how cities use the arts as an economic development tool.
It would make “perfect sense” to add a diplomatic presence as a complement to the business activity already taking place in the region, said Derrick Jackson, president of the Atlanta-based South African-American Business Chamber.
“If they put something here in Georgia, that means Georgia will be representing the whole of the Southeast,” he said. “If they put a consulate here, we can do some dynamic stuff.”
The chamber itself has been expanding nationally, recently adding representatives in Florida, North Carolina, New York, Texas, Washington and California.
Currently, South Africa’s diplomatic representation in the United States includes consulates in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as the embassy in Washington.
Visit www.sauschamber.com for more information.