H.E. Mr. Geoff Doidge The South African Ambassador to Thailand

by Kathleen Pokrud

On April 27th 1994, millions of South African’s turned out to cast their very first ballot to vote for two objectives, to end the apartheid system and for the very first time in three hundred and fourty years of colonisation and minority rule, elect the government of their choice. This turning point in the political history of our country, is designated in law as Freedom Day and is celebrated on April 27th as our National Day. This was a watershed moment for all South Africans, and this was the birth of the “Rainbow Nation” united in our diversity.

The current day Republic of South Africa is a constitutional democracy, defined by its constitution as a non-racial, non-sexist state based on justice, equality, the rule of law and inalienable human rights for all. The South African Constitution is acknowledged to be the most progressive in modern times and has embedded in Chapter 2, the “Bill of Rights” which includes its distinct “Equality Clause” a first in a Bill of Rights.

Expat Life greatly appreciate His Excellency Mr. Geoff Doidge in granting us an interview despite his grueling schedule as Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand, and also accredited to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos whilst still a prominent national leader in South Africa.

Political activist

Growing up in racially segregated communities and having witnessed firsthand the brutal racism and oppression and land dispossession through illegal forced removals based on race; Ambassador Doidge vowed to make a contribution to ending the brutal system of apartheid. His strong conviction for political and racial equality cost him to willingly sacrifice a thriving trading business built over a decade, to focus solely on the liberation struggle for a free and democratic South Africa. Whilst many family members left the country in droves my family decided to remain, a choice that I am very proud of today. 

Sharing the personal story, “My family was classified Coloured under the notorious Population Registration Act of 1950 which segregated all South Africans as either Bantu (Africans), Coloured (mixed races), White and Asian (Indians/Pakistanis) despite the fact that my grandfather was an Englishman, Ernest Doidge, a cabinet maker from Devonshire England and my grandmother was Stella Rose Doidge, a descendent of Sir Walter Booth. This had become institutionalised racism.

On my paternal side, some family members were classified as “whites” while others as “coloured”, not by choice. The Apartheid system was brutal as it compelled families to be separated, and was fittingly declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations.”

“South Africa is today a proud “Rainbow Nation” that found its own solutions through a highly acclaimed negotiated political settlement and found ways to overcome its many challenges, through which, the racial discrimination and oppression was ended. Today South Africa proudly has as is nations motto, “United in Diversity”. The project of nation building is ongoing, notwithstanding the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment bequethed to us by apartheid. We remain determined  as we have been since 1912 that we will overcome these challenges.

President Nelson Mandela was 75 and Archbishop Desmond Tutu was 62 when they voted for the very first time in the country of their birth. Under the leadership and Presidency of President Mandela and the Chairmanship of Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to “give a voice to the perpetrators and victims of apartheid and to provide a mechanism of restorative justice and to heal the wounds of the inhumane past.” South Africans deliberately chose restorative justice as opposed to retributive justice, as a means to reconcile the wounded nation and build a new nation, united in its diversity. 

Calling to serve the country

Ambassador Doidge was elected to Parliament for  the African National

Congress in 1994 and served for as an MP for sixteen years. 

During the liberation struggle, the risks of being arrested and charged with treason were very real to the young family of Ambassador Geoff and Madame Carol Doidge. The couple was not discouraged and both were founding members of the then Kokstad Civic Association, he became Chairman of the Kokstad Branch of the African National Congress (banned at the time). Candidly admitted, “Our roles in the liberation struggle exposed us to several risks and three attempts on my life.”

Since the beginning of his political career in Parliament, Ambassador Doidge has served in numerous senior positions over the past 25 years, from being a Provincial Whip for Programming and Legislation Whip, Deputy Chief Whip of the Majority Party, Chairperson of Committees, and House Chairperson of Committees. He humbly declared, “I believe I served at the most intriguing time in the history of South Africa. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet President Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Winnie Madikizela Mandela and many other prominent leaders of our  times.”

Moving to Thailand

Ambassador Doidge moved to Thailand in 2016, to be Ambassador of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, following five and half years as High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal. Prior to being posted to Sri Lanka , he was a National Government Cabinet Minister and served under President Kgalema Mothlante to be followed by President Jacob Zuma. In 2011, President Zuma appointed Ambassador Doidge as the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. As his first diplomatic posting, he was there for five and a half years. 

I asked Ambassador how he has found Thailand since his arrival; “It is almost four years since we first visited Thailand for the first time in May 2016. Two of my most memorable experiences were bearing witness to the passing on and funeral of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Royal Coronation of His Majesty Maha Vajiralongkorn. It was truly touching to observe such immense devotion that the Thai people have for the Monarchy and Royal Family.”

Forging bilateral relationships between Thailand and South Africa since 1993 when the establishment of diplomatic relations between Thailand and South Africa began, the relationship between the two countries has strengthened dramatically in all areas. His Excellency explained, “Thailand has embarked on a policy to expand its ties and influences with Africa which results in South Africa being Thailand’s largest trading and strategic partner. Simultaneously, South Africa also regards Thailand as a crucial gateway to SE Asia and the Mekong region countries”, he further added, “The South African-Thai Chamber of Commerce was established since 1995 and is critical partner in the promotion of trade and investment for South Africa. The Thai Government recognises and has a dynamic relationship with the African of Ambassadors Group as a strategic entity in its African agenda, something we African Ambassador highly appreciate, 

In 2019, the top five exports from South Africa were iron and steel machinery, wood pulp and paper, chemicals and automotive parts. Top five export products from Thailand were original equipment components, machinery, automotive parts, plastics and rubber products, vegetables. Thailand enjoyed a trade surplus with South Africa because of the significant exports of original equipment component for the automotive industry for Toyota Motors and Ford Motor and several other brands. in South Africa.

Member of G20 and BRICS

South Africa is a member of the G20 and BRICS. According to Ambassador Doidge, “We are well positioned as our gross domestic product accounts for 25% of the African continent, the highest industrial output and 50% of the continent’s spending power.” Under the stewardship of His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa who took over the presidency of South Africa in 2018, a “New Dawn” policy was initiated for a new growth path in economic development and global competitiveness. “The development needs of the majority of our people have been the topmost priority of our government since 1994. To address the horrid legacy of the past where certain areas of our country still suffer from lack of electricity, infrastructure, running water, education and health facilities, the government endorsed the Reconstruction and Development Programme.” 

South Africa was the last country to join BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). With a combined GDP of USD 18.6 trillion and accounted for 23.2% of the gross world product, all these BRICS countries represent the largest emerging market economics and have significant influence in their regional affairs. South African has made its position clear that its participation in BRICS is to be the voice and platform for Africa.

As a current member of the United Nations, South Africa fully participates in all other multi-lateral institutions and plays a purposeful role in world affairs. The South African government continued to call for comprehensive reforms of the United Nations and Security Council, and relentlessly offered its commitment to the World Trade Organisation.

Inspiring South Africa

I asked Ambassador how many South Africans are in Thailand? “We estimate in the region of 1,500 South African residents in Thailand. As for South African tourists here, it is close to 100,000 while the Thai tourists to South Africa are in the region of 10,000 who are mainly high net worth visitors.”

Tucked away at the southern most tip of the African Continent, South Africa offers a wealth of different and beautiful attractions. It shares neighbouring borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. South Africa encloses both Swaziland and Lesotho. It has an extensive coastline of over 2,700kms shared between the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast and the warm Indian Ocean on the East Coast.

South Africa is home to multi-cultural melting pot of 58 million beautiful people of diverse origins, cultures, languages and diverse religions. Although English is widely spoken and is used for informational signage, South Africa celebrates diversity in language with a total of eleven official languages. These languages are Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga and English. Ambassador Doidge speaks English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu and what remains of his childhood favourite Sesotho.

Home to the some of the African continent’s best safari parks and protected destinations, South Africa offers the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino). Aside from attractive wildlife, the country’s dramatic and stunning landscapes, action-packed outdoor adventures, favourable vineyards to exotic cuisine, offer a staggering variety for visitors to indulge.

“Is South Africa safe to travel?” I asked Ambassador, as the frequent question is the concern of many first-time international visitors. “South Africa is safe if you are sensible and like any other destination in the world, caution is always advisable.” I echoed Ambassador’s sentiment; I visited South Africa a few times for business and personal reasons, and each visit was professional and awesome.

With my previous times to South Africa for business, I found the country to be very Westernised, especially Johannesburg. Cape Town is magical where my family spent two weeks on a self-drive vacation. To visit South Africa without learning about its turbulent history would be to miss a momentous part of the country’s identity. Despite heart-wrenching to visit to the townships like Soweto (Jo’burg) or Gugulethu and its famous Mzoli’s Place for an authentic South African Braai or to visit Robben Island in particular the jail cell of Nelson Mandela(Cape Town), seeing the museum exhibits on the apartheid era help visitors like me to understand the fabric of South African society and appreciate how far The Rainbow Nation has come in building a new unified nation..

As Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, His Excellency travelled extensively throughout Thailand and the region. He admitted frankly that it was difficult to pinpoint his particular favourite destination, as there are so many alluring and exotic places in the region.

Growing up on the farm, Glen Edward, on the foothills of the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains (the highest and longest mountain range in Southern Africa), which form the border between South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho, Ambassador Doidge welcomes the splendour of mountains natural beauty. “With the abundant fauna and flora across the magnificent mountain range in both summer and winter, I have always regarded my childhood home as “Gods own country”. I have many adoring memories of going camping with my father where we engaged outdoor activities like hiking, horse riding, hunting, and trout fishing”.

With continuous visiting foreign delegations and overseas duties in the neighbouring countries, Ambassador Doidge has very little free time. If there is any precious opportunity to relax, “I consider myself an avid reader. I enjoy touring and exploring new places to indulge on my love for photography at the same time.” Nevertheless, “I love and enjoy my job in representing my country. I am passionate about what I do, I am always inspired and positive to serve!” I am also supported and assisted by a very able and competent team of South African Officials and Thai personnel whose long service and high work ethic are an asset to our Embassy here in Thailand. The Thai Government and officials and it would be remis of me not to mention the Foreign Ministry are most supportive and accessible to us and we are grateful to have such a dynamic relationship.

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