Investment will take priority, US ambassador to SA says on first day
The new US ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks, has vowed to be the "matchmaker" for American companies wanting to work in SA.
Addressing journalists at the US consulate in Sandton on Wednesday, Marks kicked off her first day in office by reassuring South Africans that she would strengthen relations between SA and the US.
“I will lead our Mission South Africa ‘deal team’ as we work to play matchmaker for American firms interested in coming to South Africa, and South African companies looking for access to the US market,” she said.
Marks expressed her commitment to promoting a better business climate, as part of the US government's Prosper Africa initiative, which seeks to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the US and Africa.
The US is SA's third-largest trading partner, something Marks says she wants to change. "I definitely don't want to settle for third place. We want to maximise this excellent opportunity at a unique time," she said.
Marks didn’t shy away from the problems facing SA, including unemployment and HIV/Aids.
“Since 2004 we have invested more than R80bn in South Africa to support HIV prevention and testing, linking people living with HIV to life-saving treatment. We will be spending more than $750m [about R11.2bn] this year alone, thanks to a surge funding generously provided by the US Congress,” she said.
Another priority will be helping South African women realise their full potential. “Economic potential won’t happen unless we pay special attention to educating, developing and investing in women as empowered members of not just the workforce, but as citizens," she said.
Marks said the US was piloting the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs in the country through a programme named TechWomen. “We are bringing together emerging women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for mentorship programmes," she said.
On other issues, she said the US would look to support SA in its fight against violent crime, adding that the joint fight on wildlife trafficking was already strong.
“I will work with my team to build on our work, to invest in people and to build partnerships - all of this to promote prosperity, security, health, jobs, skills, education and opportunity for South Africans and Americans alike.”
Marks was born in East London and left South Africa in the 1970s. She became a US citizen in 1994.
She said she was filled with pride at how far SA has come. She apparently has not lost touch with the roots, closing her address with greetings in Afrikaans and isiXhosa.
“Though I am now an American, I feel a great kinship with the people of South Africa - to whom I will always have a special bond," she added.