South Africa's whirlwind hits town

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The Independent Online
THE first black woman to represent South Africa in Britain pledged to let the winds of change blow through the colonial splendour of London's South Africa House, and to give the diplomatic cocktail circuit a wide berth.

Cheryl Carolus, 40, who arrived in London last week to take up the post of High Commissioner, said: "It's a myth that diplomats lie through their teeth, but I will call a spade a spade and not a garden implement."

Promising to spend her time getting to know the British people and not just other diplomats, she added: "If 70 per cent of my time is spent with colleagues from the diplomatic world, then there must be something wrong."

Ms Carolus's track record scarcely reads like the CV of a career diplomat. She became politically involved as a schoolgirl in Cape Town and became an important figure in the United Democratic Movement, the civil rights movement that was in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid in the Eighties. "I didn't get involved in politics, politics got involved with me," she says. "The only way to reclaim your dignity was to resist the dehumanisation apartheid imposed on you."

After becoming a member of the ANC national executive and a favourite of Nelson Mandela, she turned down an offer of a cabinet position, choosing instead to run the ANC's party machinery as general secretary.

For all the Marxist rhetoric of her early career, she and her husband Graeme Bloch will cut far from earnest figures. "They will be up to dawn, dancing the night away," one friend was quoted as saying on hearing of the appointment.

Last week, Ms Carolus suggested she would be "probably the worst diplomat in the world".

Britain has been warned.