H.E. Vuyiswa Tulelo, South African Ambassador to Vietnam




Excellency, this is your second post representing your country, how is the Vietnam experience compared to the recent one in New Zealand?

 The experience in NZ was very instrumental for one to learn the practice and protocol aspects of representing ones country . NZ was a good place to start at, as the atmosphere was very relaxed and allowed for one to experiment with different kinds of approaches on how best to manage the brand of South Africa . The difficulty with NZ was that with the number of South Africans in NZ one had a lot of consular matters that created some tension and required a hands on approach .  This created the need for one to learn and have a deep knowledge and understanding of the consular section of the Mission, and of the policy directives from DHA. It resulted in one cultivating strong connections with DHA and led to a strong stakeholders management on the part of the Mission .

On the bilateral side one found that NZ offered interesting  ways to resolve our historical difficulties. The manner in which the Maori have used the land returned to them as part of the Teriti o Waitangi can offer South Africa so many lessons as we deal with our land issues. The Maori have used their land as an economic muscle and they use that leverage to negotiate how to improve their lot in NZ .  The use of Maori culture as a tool for tourism promotion is something South Africa can take a leaf from as we promote different provinces of the country . There  have been many successes but there remain some critical challenges too. Because NZ and South African were colonised by the same country, lessons to learn and share are many.

Vietnam presented a new dynamic in that diplomatic practices are taken very seriously here  and there is a huge expectation on South Africa from the host country. This is largely because of the historic relations between the ruling party and  the Vietnamese . One is constantly dealing with managing the expectations from an old friend versus the reality that is imposed on South African by our legal framework . It presents for very interesting discussions during bilateral engagements. Learning opportunities must never be missed to allow one to have a better understanding of the host nation . The development of Economic relations between the two countries is a major part of the work to be undertaken, so as one learns to understand and appreciate the culture of Vietnam that area of the work will be easier to execute .


Ambassador, what objectives have you already achieved since your arrival to the Southeast Asian nation and which ones do you still expect to accomplish before completing your term there?

The official  start of  tour of duty was  5th August 2022, in Vietnam and in the period since then the following  haven been executed: 

  1. Visit 3 main centres of the country , Ho Chi Minh City in the north , Da Nang in the centre and  SA PA in the south .  As Hanoi  is the capital of Vietnam , there is more frequent engagements with stakeholders resident in the city .
  2. As part of the regional visits , one has successfully engaged with business entities on improving  relations between the  two countries  and finding opportunities that will facilitate that improvement . 
  3. Engagements with tour operators have been undertaking to , ensuring that South Africa is a destination of choice  for Vietnamese . This has been very successful as we have seen the increase of visa applications in the month of March  2023 .  The limitations imposed by COVID have led to a lull in the tourism sector , so being able to reactive  those relations is critical .
  4. One has for the first time since the establishment of the Mission held engagement with South African residents in Vietnam to understand how best the Mission can support them within the confines of its mandate . This has been received with high moral and is definitely something one will carry through out the tour of duty .

South Africa and Vietnam will celebrate 30yrs of Diplomatic Relations in 2023. A critical part of the work that one will pursue will be to showcase  the growth of the relationship between the countries in the areas of Economic , Cultural and People to People Diplomacy . To achieve that one will work towards : 

  1. Increase in high level bilateral visits between the two countries 
  2. Increase in the agricultural exports of South Africa in Vietnam , with specific reference to beef and other fruit products 
  3. Increase in the tourist visit to South Africa from Vietnam


Madame Tulelo. what is South Africa’s specific business interests and its economic involvement in Vietnam? Kindly highlight those projects currently being developed between both nations.

South Africa and Vietnam have a very long and strong political history . The strength of those relations still requires work in the economic area. South Africa currently export  the following to Vietnam :

  • Mineral products
  • Vegetable products, fruits such as apples, pears and table grape in particular 
  • Base metals and articles of base metal
  • Products of the chemical or allied industries

South Africa is working very hard to increase its agricultural products in Vietnam , especially oranges ,pears and beef.  There  is a lot of work that has already gone into insuring that our products meet the legal requirement of Vietnam and more still needs to be done .  The resuscitation of our mineral exports ( coal )   is also part of  the priority areas the Mission is working on .

Whilst Vietnam exports to South Africa : 

  • Machinery (cell phones, electrical equipment, computers and mechanical appliances)
  • Footwear
  • Textiles
  • Mineral products (Portland cement, aluminous cement, slag cement etc)
  • Vegetables (coconuts, Brazil nuts and cashew nuts etc)


Excellency, you are someone known to get deeply involved in the cultures of the countries where you are posted, as in your attempt to learn maori. How are you planning to assimilate the Vietnamese nation?

Learning Vietnamese is definitely on the bucket list . It is important to understand the pulse of a people to enable one to better understand how to improve your services . One holds  dear the notion you can not serve a people you do not know.  One actively looks for opportunities to serve with in the local community . This helps one to have a deeper and better appreciation for the culture of the people . Once a month we go out to perform a service activity like feeding those who are terminally ill. Donating suppliers for orphanages and  volunteering our time . All the above activities are done as as family over and above the work one does in our official capacity. The hope is that whilst in service one will pick up the language nuances easily .


Ambassador, what efforts are being made and what is the strategy to place South Africa as a destination on Vietnamese travel plans?

Since having  arrived at the post ,the Mission has hosted 3  engagements  focused on tour operators and  travel agencies in Vietnam . This was done in Ho Chi Minh City , Da Nang and Hanoi . The Mission is committed to honouring the 7 working day turn around period  for the issuing of visas.  The Mission participated in the Spring Festival hosted by United National International School Hanoi in March of this year .This allowed the Mission to show case South Africa as a choice travel destination. The Mission will utilise the 30yr anniversary celebrations to show case South Africa in Vietnam.


 Her Excellency, your political career began at an early stage of your life, amongst others as a Secretary General of the ANC Youth League. How does that side of you shape the rest of who Vuyiswa Tulelo is today?

 The lessons learned during the days of youth activism remain critical as one represents the country in different capacities. The understanding that one is part of a community and therefore the development of one is centrally linked to that of the community remains a critical part of our  leadership style . In being the voice of the youth in the country, one learnt that communication is critical and must be crystal clear . This remains very true as one speaks on behalf of the country in Vietnam. It is important to always  ensure that your messages are clear and well articulated, especially as  English is not the first language here .

The ability to mobilise and  organise different stakeholders is a lesson learnt during  the Youth League days , this remains critical to date . One shared the engagement with South Africans in Vietnam earlier . The idea to engage in that manner came from the days of the Youth League, nothing about us without us . One can not claim to service the South African Nationals if you do not  allow them to share their thoughts and reflection on how they perceive the Mission . It is allowing them to express their views and then helping understand what is within the mandate of the Mission that creates allies instead of opponents . It does not mean when there are engagements they will always be happy , but the opportunity is presented and they can never say we are not listened too. 

One developed  the skills  to write reports and take note during the Youth League days , this has become very useful when engagements need recording for future review . One can always assist other colleagues in the Mission with details that may be missed in the process . In a nutshell , the time one spent in the Youth League provided more preparation than the time one spent at university.