Inside File: A des. res. in Trafalgar Square, one proud owner

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The Independent Online
THE nearly all-white team at South Africa House may not know this yet, but they could be in for more changes than those resulting from affirmative action. One of the more drastic cost-cutting ideas being floated within the African National Congress is to get rid of the enormous embassy building in one of London's prime locations on Trafalgar Square.

It is one of a portfolio of buildings around the world that could be sold to generate cash for the severely stretched civil service of the new South Africa. The one in Washington, near the British embassy in Massachusetts Avenue, could also come under the hammer. The idea is to use the proceeds to run leaner missions in future. The intelligence sections of the embassies will be trimmed considerably.

The more modest ANC office in Mandela Street in north London is due to close at the end of the month. The chief representative has already returned to South Africa to become a member of parliament. A more lucrative deal will result from the sale of the lavish Bophuthatswana House in Holland Park, following the end of the official charade of 'independent homelands'.

White diplomats still wheel out their old argument that they will survive because the foreign service had more co- operation with the ANC than other government departments. But the truth is that none of the diplomats at South Africa House, or in any of Pretoria's embassies, still pretends to know what their personal futures hold. 'Of course I'm not sure,' said a senior envoy. 'No one can be.'

No one, that is, except two people: the ambassador himself, Kent Durr, a political appointee and former National Party minister not long for his job who will go back to the family's considerable property holdings; and Beston Banda, the embassy's only black diplomat who took up his post as third secretary last January. 'I've been made to feel very welcome by my colleagues,' Mr Banda told me amid the exuberant ANC supporters celebrating Nelson Mandela's inauguration on Tuesday.

Mr Banda is one of an advance team of non-white diplomats posted to embassies ahead of the election. Many more are being trained abroad and at home - some with British assistance. About 25 young non-white South Africans have been trained in diplomacy at the University of Birmingham, three-quarters of them from the ANC. The pounds 275,000 bill is footed jointly by the EC and the British Overseas Development Administration.

One of the problems facing the huge South African civil service is what to do with the old guard. There are a number of senior civil servants from the old administration, such as permanent under-secretaries, whom the new government feels it cannot sack. They will have to be given embassies to keep the civil service happy. But they would be given reasonably harmless postings. The capitals where the ANC has had an active presence would be less suitable as dumping grounds for redundant bureaucrats.

F W de Klerk is due in London next week to attend a seminar. The occasion will be low profile pending the visit of Nelson Mandela's later this year.

Mandela's cabinet, page 16