Video by Kristen Swilley
PRETORIA, South Africa – United States Ambassador Donald Gips stressed that AIDS was the central issue in relations between South Africa and the United States Wednesday morning.
Speaking to members of the FAMU-Shantou World Cup reporting team, Gips discussed the variety of ways in which the U.S. is working to improve its relations with South Africa while hosting a pre-match pep rally at the U.S. Embassy. Gips greeted guests with a speech, donning a festive hat and blowing a vuvuzela to show his team spirit.
The event was a significant change of pace for Gips. The 50 year-old has been working to improve relations between America and South Africa since President Obama nominated him on June 4, 2009. He took a moment to explain some of the different ways the two nations are working together.
“We’ve been working to strengthen the relationship with South Africa with everything from the HIV/AIDS epidemic here to education to trying to reduce crime in the country as well as working with them on global issues such as climate change and stability in Africa,” Gips said.
The hardest part of his job has been grasping all of the different cultures present in the “Rainbow Nation.” In a country with 11 official languages and widespread ethnic diversity, this is no easy task.
“Once I have learned all that, it makes it much easier to build those relationships and get the relationship going.”
Gips may have caught a break, though. Regardless of race or creed, all South Africans are currently excited about one thing: the World Cup.
“One of the things the World Cup has helped to inspire is more and more cooperation between our two countries,” Gips remarked.
In preparation for the World Cup, South African police underwent training with the United States Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) program. According to the embassy’s official website, the program was founded in 1983 to train foreign police “to detect, deter, counter, and investigate terrorist activities,” and has assisted law enforcers from 154 different countries. Trainees studied a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives course to ensure that South Africa would remain safe and secure throughout the tournament.
Gips was also eager to see how the World Cup will attract foreign investors to South Africa. Having received an MBA from the Yale school of management, Gips is no stranger to the nature of economics. He complimented South Africa’s intricate banking system.
“It’s a great place to base your operations,” Gips said. He believes businessmen could use South Africa as a stepping stone to reach other nearby nations.
Nevertheless, Gips is putting the issue of AIDS first during his time in the Rainbow Nation:. When it comes to relations between the United States and South Africa, the most important piece of the puzzle is controlling the spread of the deadly disease.
“Our top priority is HIV/AIDS.”
Gips described a three-point plan that focused on providing care to current patients, preventing new cases of infection, and making sure that the program is sustainable. The United States has committed over $600 million to the project. It may be too early to tell if what the future holds for South Africa, but Gips remains positive.
“It’s a very complicated complex picture,” he said, “but it’s one that’s making real progress.”