South Africa and the United States of America have a shared history that they should use to strengthen bonds between the two countries.
This is the sentiment shared by US Ambassador to South Africa His Excellency Reuben E. Brigety II on his visit to the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Wednesday, 20 September 2023.
Brigety, who was invited by the University’s Department of International Relations and Politics (in the Faculty of Humanities) used his talk to illustrate how this shared history can assist the two countries in building stronger ties. He appeared as part of the US-SA Seminar series.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UJ, Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi said it was an honour to host Ambassador Brigety at UJ, especially because the USA has been a partner to UJ for years.
“The United States is an important partner to us on many levels. Over the years we have worked and formed partnerships with dozens of US institutions. These have been on research, on teaching and learning and all areas to do with capacity development. Many of our students have gone on to make a contribution in the US, and vice versa. We have many among our staff and student bodies who are of American origin. We have vibrant exchange programmes that exist in many of our faculties, and their American counterparts.
“We look forward to deepening this relationship between our academics and other likeminded individuals from the US,” Prof Mpedi said.
In his remarks, Ambassador Brigety started off by sharing his history, albeit briefly.
“I am thrilled to be at the University of Johannesburg this afternoon. I have spent roughly half of my adult life in higher education as a university professor, as Dean and as Vice-Chancellor. I am deeply passionate about the transformative power of education. I am a fourth-generation educator, and I am fourth generation, college educated African American man, which is rare. And so I am thrilled to be here with all of you,” he said.
He then began his talk by going into the cultural and historical links that exist between South Africa and the United States, and how this creates a special bond between the two countries. Ambassador Brigety said this relationship had not been explored sufficiently.
“I do not think that this special relationship has gotten enough attention. Over the last year, what there has been, is a lot of attention on high level political issues. Some of it positive, some of it contentious. And this makes sense because we have seen the highest level of engagement between South African and US government officials in more than a decade. President Biden and President Ramaphosa are talking about how we can work together, to achieve national objectives and tackle international problems,” he said.
To illustrate this point, he recounted three significant anecdotes that bridged the cultural and historical divide between South Africa and the United States.
These stories included the arrest of Richard Collins, a singer with the Virginia Jubilee Singers during a tour in Natal, the activism of four Black Americans staging a sit-in at the South African ambassador’s office in protest of the apartheid government’s treatment of Black South African labour leaders, and the warm reception received by anti-apartheid and LGBTIAQ+ rights activist Simon Nkoli in San Francisco as he raised awareness about HIV/AIDS. Nkoli’s dedication led to the establishment of “Simon Nkoli Day” on August 24th, honouring his efforts to connect the fight against racial discrimination with the battle against homophobia.
Following his address, Ambassador Brigety engaged with the audience, addressing a wide range of inquiries. These questions spanned topics such as American foreign policy, shifts in human rights stances within American states, and the U.S. government’s plans to support South Africa in addressing pressing issues like power shortages and youth unemployment.