WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Washington's National Press Club this week honored South Africa's ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool, with a unusual lifetime achievement award as he prepared to head home to Cape Town after four and half years in the American capital.
The award was only granted "on special occasions to special recipients," said NPC president Myron Belkind, who teaches journalism at George Washington University after a distinguished career as foreign correspondent and bureau chief with the Associated Press.
Belkind said the award was in recognition not only of the "close ties" Rasool had forged with the club but also the ambassador's "positive impact in Washington" both as a diplomat and as a "Muslim scholar who has reached out to other communities."
As examples, Belkind cited Rasool's interactions with Washington's Jewish community and the historic Jumu'ah — Muslim Friday prayers — the ambassador worked to organize in Washington's National Cathedral earlier this month, garnering front page coverage in the Washington Post.
Rasool, former premier of South Africa's Western Cape province, is the first South African representative to be recognized in this way by the NPC, a century old, 3 500 member Washington institution which prides itself on being among the world's leading professional organizations for journalists.
The award was also seen as vindication the efforts the ambassador and his team have made to cultivate good working relations with US media. They helped the NPC organize a tribute to Nelson Mandela in 2012. When Belkind was inaugurated as NPC president in January, he asked the ambassador to deliver the keynote address. In August, President Jacob Zuma accepted, over many others, the NPC's invitation to be luncheon speaker at the start of President Obama's US-Africa Leaders Summit.
Accepting the award at a dazzling dance and music-filled NPC "international night" on Wednesday, Rasool said he had taken up his post determined not to leave a mere "vacancy" to be filled at the end of his tour, but a "legacy" on which his successor could build.
As ambassador, he said, he had wanted to represent not simply "a government or country or set of national interests" but "a philosophy, a vision and a set of values" that showed the way forward in "a world beset by futility, alienation and conflict."
Celebrating the life and values of Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5 last year, has been a central theme of Rasool's ambassadorship. Mandela's most enduring legacy, he hoped, would be to provide a "template" for building a better world.
The addition of a statue of Mandela to Washington's landmarks is only the most visible of the ambassador's accomplishments.
Rasool said he was able to report that he was leaving US-South Africa ties in sound, mutually beneficial shape.
- The value of trade between the two countries, now at over $17 billion, was now higher that it had been before the 2008 financial crisis.
- The US was the South Africa's largest source foreign direct investment with investments valued at over $50 billion.
- 600 US companies were active in South Africa, accounting for more that 150 000 jobs.
- Americans were traveling to South Africa in record numbers — over 300 000 in 2013.
- American funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention remained generous at $400 million.
SOURCE Brand South Africa US