Many might say that MI6 007 agent James Bond was born at Skyfall, Scotland, but they would be wrong. He was born in Jamaica, from the pen of Ian Fleming at his retreat Goldeneye. Embassy Direct sits down with Her Excellency Cheryl Spencer, High Commissioner of the Republic of Jamaica to South Africa. Excellency, thank you for joining us here today.
H.E. Cheryl Spencer: Thank you for having me.
Embassy Direct: Excellency, as Jamaican High Commissioner to South Africa, how has your diplomatic tour been thus far? Are there moments that stand out?
I am accredited to 19 countries – South Africa, all of Southern Africa and East Africa. That, in itself, presents a very diverse role with various different people.
A number of things stand out about my tour. The first is the issue of multilateralism. It is a bilateral post, but really it’s also a multilateral one. There are 134 embassies and international organisations in South Africa; there is a very active pact of international relations and cooperation; there are active academic institutions; active NGOs. The variety of issues tackled among all of that and among all of us makes it truly multilateral. I’ve never seen that in a bilateral post, so that stands out for me in South Africa. The second is the tremendous landscape that has me driving long distances, and I’ve never liked long-distance driving. Here, people jump in their cars and travel 8 to 16 hours. I’m learning to enjoy that, and it also has to do in part with a similarity of the landscape to that of Jamaica. There are several parts of this country that make me think, “this looks like Montego Bay” or “this looks like Ocho Rios”. The third is cultural diversity, and again similarities can be drawn to Jamaica. Whether it’s in arts and crafts or in performance, I think South Africa has some of the most talented, creative people, as Jamaica does as well. You, yourself, assisted me last year, Rodrigo, in getting a South African singer to sing Bob Marley songs at our National Day celebration. To this week, a colleague said to me he’s not forgotten that particular National Day event because of the performance by young Noxi (Noxolo Dlamini). She took a couple of days to learn so many Bob Marley songs and was able to deliver them with authenticity and I think that speaks very highly of South Africa. One last thing that stands out is the fact that I arrived in January 2015, and that same year both the Deputy Minister and Senior Minister Of International Relations and Cooperation decided to visit Jamaica. For that to happen in my first year, I think, was a very monumental development for my career. Those would be moments that I would highlight.
Jamaica was at the forefront of the international campaign against apartheid, and the first to declare a trade embargo against South Africa 60 years ago. How have bilateral relations moved forward since they were established in 1994?
And in fact we were ourselves not yet independent in 1957 when we declared the embargo – we gained independent in 1962. When the first democratically-elected elections were held in 1994, it was a Jamaican-Argentinian team, with a long tradition within the UN, who lead the observer team. The relationship has flourished since then. In 1995, South Africa joined the African and Caribbean Pacific group, which correlates around the ACPEC Convention, which has brought us together as Jamaica, and indeed the Caribbean Community, and South Africa. Since then, we have had a maximum relationship. We have representation in each other’s country; we have been pursuing a number of areas of cooperation, we work together within the G-77 community, within the G-15, within the World Trade Organisation, but bilaterally, we have also learned to work within each other’s communities, both South Africa in Jamaica, and Jamaica in South Africa.
What are the key agreements and treaties signed between the two countries and what are the impacts to the people of both?
The key agreements that we have signed include one on Sports and Recreation, one on Arts and Culture, one in Science and Technology, there is another which twins Pretoria and Kingston and the municipalities of the countries. These are fully signed agreements. We are now also negotiating a transport and air services agreement.
In terms of Arts and Culture, we collaborate in a number of areas, with South Africans and Jamaicans in each other’s countries participating in each other’s events. We are looking to develop a greater platform for our cultural diversities together through the Arts and Culture agreement. In terms of sports, there are a number of areas in which we are now planning to expand our relations. We are good at athletics, South Africa is very good in Rugby and in field management, and those are areas in which we are looking to collaborate. We are working in South Africa to further study how Jamaican athletics has developed and why Jamaican athletes do so well, being able to show that it is a lifestyle from an early age. Science and Technology is a very comprehensive agreement, one which is very active. We are working on what we call Nutraceuticals to that agreement. And then, Jamaica has about 50% of the world’s medicinal plants, and South Africa, similarly, has a large number. Under the Science and Technology agreement, both countries are working not only to be able to address health issues, but also to create products that can lead to greater trade penetration between both countries. The agreement between the municipalities is also critical. The cities will be working together in terms of governance, local governance, and in terms of the youth.
On a state visit in 2012, President Jacob Zuma committed to encouraging and facilitating South African companies to doing business in Jamaica, hoping for a steady growth in trade and investment between the two countries. Has such a commitment formalised and is it showing results?
We have recently signed another agreement on political consultation, within which we expect to be able to expand discussions to include ideas concerning the expansion of trade. There is little activity at the moment in terms of trade between South Africa and Jamaica. It is something we are working on with private sector organisations in South Africa. South Africa is a grand market for niche products, and that is where we are looking to get that extension from. We have rum, which is the main product coming to South Africa at the moment. I think the total trade, both import and export between Jamaica and South Africa, is quite limited at US$20 million. We are trying to expand this by utilising two or three niche products, so apart from rum we are looking at a coffee. South Africans are known to drink a lot of coffee, and Jamaica’s Blue Mountain is of the best in the world. We are also looking at our jerk sauces and spices. Jerk is one of Jamaica’s premier products. It relates to the marinade that is prepared that then bears the meat, and it also refers to the process of preparing the food. We feel that in South Africa, where meat is a very prominent and very cultural product, jerk is one of the items that should be in the South African market. And we often say, “you have not tasted Jamaica, until you have tasted jerk”.
We are also working on small and medium-sized enterprises trying to get joint-ventures to expand business opportunities. In terms of investment, there is a Jamaican company which is about to enter the market, providing an app for protection of your motor vehicle, and I think that’s a great investment.
On the other hand, have South African brands or services invested in Jamaica?
We have a number of South African products, not much investment as yet. The products include wines, naturally; juices, Ceres is very prominent in the Jamaican market; and a few other food items. The constraint of distance and transportation is something we are looking at. We are also seeking investment from South Africa in areas such as ICT, agriculture and agri-processing.
When talking about Jamaica and Africa we refer to a diaspora, an area emphasised by your country and South Africa. In what ways have both contributed to each other’s diasporas?
The diaspora is very critical. I always tell people that Jamaicans are very loyal. As soon as a child is born, one of the first things that happens, especially if the child is born in another country, is that an application is submitted for citizenship. We have increasingly incorporated the diaspora into our National Development objectives. Currently, we are looking at economic growth in Jamaica. We have set certain targets for the next few years and the diaspora will play a critical role in that. I know South Africa, similarly, has a great brand South Africa organisation that works in expanding the horizons of this diaspora and their linkages with the country.
The Jamaican presence is seen and felt in South Africa through its people (and the appeal of Reggae). How big is the community here, and what is its economic impact, both in terms of skills development and business opportunity?
There are about 70 Jamaicans living in South Africa, 20 being second-generational Jamaicans. Throughout Southern Africa there are about 40 Jamaicans in Botswana, 10 in Namibia. It’s a small community, but we try collaborate across the board so that the entire diaspora community impacts the region we are living in. In terms of business, there are Jamaicans looking to collaborate or partner with South African businesses, but the potential has not been fully realised. Medical doctors are being trained in Jamaica from South Africa and that also adds to the collaborative effort of our relations.
South Africa and Jamaica compete in a range of sports, especially those under the Commonwealth umbrella, such as rugby and cricket. Is there a friendly rivalry between our countries, and where would you place each’s strengths?
I don’t think it is a rivalry, I think rather there is a lot of support. When South Africa is on stage Jamaica supports, and when Jamaica is on stage South Africa supports. I’m always impressed by how much South Africans know about Jamaica and its sports. We are also a very big cricket nation, not many people realise. Within the West Indies cricket team a number are Jamaican. Jamaica wins in the Caribbean every year, it is a champion cricketing country, so we have that in common. We are exploring where both have their strengths in the Sports and Recreation agreement, so that we use the complementarity that we have as countries to be able to foster growth within our sports industries. We are strong at athletics, but even in athletics we are trying to expand our overall reach. We do a lot of the fast races, but now we are looking at getting into the 800m, that sort of thing. South Africa has athletes in those areas, so it’s finding areas of complementarity and being able to use them to both countries’ advantage.
Any last words to encourage the bond between South Africans and Jamaicans? And please invite our viewers and readers to your beautiful country.
I would to tell South Africans not to underestimate Jamaica as a tourism destination. Our small country is 2.8 million people in population, but attracts 3 million tourists annually, and we are the leading Caribbean tourism nation for 10 consecutive years, according to the World Travel Organisation. We have an expanding tourism product every year, and we also have what we call the all-inclusive method – you pay one rate, and basically for the weeks that you’re there you don’t have to go into your pocket. South Africans do not need a Visa to go to Jamaica, neither do Jamaicans need one to come to South Africa on tourism purposes. I know just from travelling between Jamaica and South Africa that it is a very lucrative route, so my urge is to say look at Jamaica as a tourism destination. Forget the distance, there are many airlines that fly to Jamaica from Johannesburg via the US or the UK and Europe. There are so many ways to get there, and once you do, you will certainly understand that it is a country unlike any other, just as I agree that South Africa is a country unlike any other.
Your Excellency, thank you so much for your time here with Embassy Direct.