Bestowing of the medal of Officer in the National Order of Merit to Mr Kenneth Pedro
On Friday 27 July Ambassador Jacques Lapouge bestowed the National Order of Merit on Mr Kenneth Pedro in Cape Town.
Ambassador Lapouge’s speech :
Dear Mr and Mrs Pedro,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here, dear Mr Pedro, with your family and friends, to bestow upon you the insignia of Officer in the National Order of Merit.
The National Order of Merit is an Order of State with membership awarded by the President of the French Republic. It was founded in 1963 by President Charles de Gaulle.
Seeing your family and your friends all together here today, I understand why it meant so much to you to have this ceremony in Cape Town. I understand that today I am not only bestowing the medal of Officer in the National Order of Merit on you, but also, and maybe first and foremost, on your family and your community.
One should never forget that the apartheid regime did everything it could to prevent such an event from unfolding. No matter how talented a person classified as “non white” was, he was not allowed to succeed. Your success today, and its recognition by France, is also a victory for your parents, who struggled to give you access to education in spite of all the hindrances raised by the apartheid regime. It is also a victory for your community, and all the people in South Africa who had been taught for years and years that education was not for them.
You set the example for the youth of your country. You are an encouragement to look forward, without ignoring the realities inherited from the past. I know that your three children are brilliant students and that they have all chances to do even better than you !
In accordance with tradition, even though I am well aware that the story of your life is familiar to all our guests, allow me to recall the decisive phases of your career and praise your achievements.
Born in Parow, in the Western Cape, you studied history and sociology at the University of Western Cape. You started your career being a history teacher at Keetmanshoop Senior Secondary Scool in Namibia and in Plettenberg Bay, and as a researcher and lecturer at the University of Western Cape.
Your decision to learn French is a reflection of your strong taste for challenges. You studied our language in 1985-1986 at the University of Bordeaux. You were obviously very quick to pick up French since I understand you were already fluent before meeting your wife Brigitte.
You joined the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a Junior Officer in the Africa section in 1988. Since then, you have spent most of your diplomatic life in French speaking countries : in the Island of la Réunion as substituted Head of Mission with less than one year of experience, in Gabon as first secretary, substituted chargé d’affaires in Ivory Coast, counsellor for public affairs at the South African Embassy in Paris where you were closely involved in ensuring the success of the state visit of President Nelson Mandela to France in 1996.
I want to single out your experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo because you have served there several times and because I know that this is the country which left the deepest impression on you. You were nominated in the former Zaire as first secretary from 1990 to 1992 where you assisted with the opening of the embassy and organised the first evacuation of foreigners from that country in 1991, you then served as first counsellor and often chargé d’affaires from 1999 to 2003 and minister counsellor from 2005 to 2007.
At the headquarters, you were deputy director at the Central Africa Desk, director responsible for Botswana, Lesotho Swaziland, Namibia, Angola and the DRC, director in the office of Deputy Minister Sue van der Merwe, then director in the office of Deputy Minister Marius Fransman before being appointed temporarily director for diplomatic training, research and developement.
Saying that you have devoted your entire professional life to diplomacy is not an exaggeration. If you do not mind, I would like to try to elaborate a little bit about the meaning of being a diplomat for the ones who do not have the chance to work in an embassy.
Every diplomat has to face one day the huge gap existing between theory and practice. You probably had this feeling when you had to urgently travel to the Central African Republic to rescue South African citizens allegedly tortured in the filthiest jail of Bangui and discovered that they lived in a lavish style in the most expensive hotel of the main city, at the expense of the Central African Republic and happened to be real traffickers !
Diplomatic life is not only about sumptuous cocktails and luxurious dinners but also about being stuck in a cellar with the local deputy president while the army is shooting all around and trying to arrest him...
Diplomats, and partners of diplomats, also have to be inventive. A good diplomat must be able to offer a decent dinner whatever the context, even if he suddenly gets the former deputy president of his country of residence – still the same ! - taking refuge to his home in the middle of a civil war. We know, since you cannot ignore that the French do know everything..., that thanks to your wife a new recipe was created on the basis of what was left in your kitchen, meaning almost nothing except lamb and ... kumquats ! The Bemba tagine is now famous in diplomatic circles in Kinshasa and beyond, even if the recipe is still a secret !
I know that France is not the first to identify you as an exceptional individual since you were voted Junior Diplomat of the Year by Foreign Affairs in 1992.
You must all be aware that this title is granted by the President of the French Republic in recognition of distinguished achievements and exceptional contributions to France. By honouring you in this manner, the French Republic wishes to pay particular homage to your outstanding role in strengthening our diplomatic relationship.
Beyond the agreements signed in Paris and Pretoria, a living partnership relies first and formost on every day interactions between French and South African individuals. Throughout your diplomatic career you have always treasured strong links with the French. You have naturally always put South African interests first but at the same time, always tried to find a way to work in partnership with us. The dynamism that you have inspired has borne its fruits : we enjoy today a strong partnership with South Africa. It would never have been possible without people like you.
So, for your commitment to, and on behalf of the President of the French Republic, I shall now present you dear Mr Pedro with the medal of Officer in the National Order of Merit. Kenneth Pedro, au nom du Président de la République et en vertu des pouvoirs qui me sont conférés, je vous fais Officier dans l’Ordre National du Mérite. May this insignia of Officer in the National Order of Merit be evidence of the respect and friendship which the French people and France have for you.