A Seasoned Ambassador

Cultural diplomacy plays a crucial role in the building of alliances and diplomatic relations between nations. To this end, Ambassador Sam Kotane was recently appointed as co-chair for South Africa for the Joint Organising Committee of the SA-UK Seasons. Creative Feel’s Tamaryn Greer was fortunate to speak to the Ambassador about his role and the place of arts and culture in South Africa.
Ambassador Kotane served in the then Department of Foreign Affairs for a period of 15 years. His first posting was to Geneva, Switzerland, serving as a counsellor in the South African Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Following this, he served in South Africa before being appointed as Ambassador to Mauritania in western North Africa. He was then posted as Ambassador to Senegal, also being accredited to neighbouring countries Gambia and Cape Verde. In 2013, he retired from the service.
As co-chairs to the Joint Organising Committee, Ambassador Kotane and his UK counterpart, Rt Hon Baroness Usha Prashar oversee the SA-UK Seasons. The Joint Organising Committee for the SA-UK Seasons is tasked with approving joint projects and allocating funds (put in place by both nations) to projects that are viewed as beneficial to both countries and the Seasons as a whole. The artistic direction of the Seasons, which is proposed by Bongani Tembe (Commissioner-General) for SA and Tom Porter (Programme Manager, British Council Connect ZA), is the carefully curated face seen by the general public, whereas bilateral engagements form a large portion of what occurs ‘behind the scenes’. On a basic level, the co-chairs ensure that the project brings forth the best possible outcomes for both nations.
And what would Ambassador Kotane like to see the Seasons achieve for South African arts and culture? Most importantly, opportunities for emerging artists and collaborative relationships in the cultural industries. While showcasing the ‘best’ South Africa has to offer, it is vital that this is balanced by the need to create fan bases for younger artists who have not yet been exposed to international audiences. Forging partnerships plays a key role in opening up new vistas for artists and creatives as the projects undertaken, to date, in both countries illustrate. He grounds the discussion by pointing out that while government support for arts and culture is vital, the challenge of budgetary constraints and other competing priorities are a reality that has to be taken into account.
The Seasons has the potential to contribute to our country’s economic growth, comments Ambassador Kotane. Likewise, he cites the potential of arts and culture to leverage cultural trade and tourism and concomitant employment opportunities.

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