By Hume Johnson, PhD
Think diplomatic spouse, and you may imagine it’s about hosting parties and accompanying their diplomat hubbies on official outings. This is not the case of Jamaican Anneke Clarke, the spouse of John Clarke, Jamaica’s Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa. Mrs. Clarke, a former Communications Director, has been in South Africa for the past three years.
At present, she is the press secretary for the International Diplomatic Spouses Association (IDSA), based in Pretoria, after previously serving as treasurer for the organization. With a membership of over 80 diplomatic spouses from different countries all over the world, IDSA is established to assist newly arrived spouses settle in South Africa, facilitate cultural exchange between the diplomatic community and South Africans, and undertake charitable activities to improve the social and economic conditions of underprivileged South Africans especially women and children.
It is this latter aspect, which provides Mrs. Clarke with her greatest motivation. “We all support our spouses in the execution of their jobs, provide support, host incoming missions and fundraise in order to undertake charitable activities”, says Anneke Clarke as she sifts through the IDSA’s latest newsletter, which profiles the many charitable projects undertaken by her organization.
The International Diplomatic Spouses Association disbursed more than 200,000 South African Rand to charities and NGOs in the last two years. Some of the projects that benefited from this assistance include Woman Against Rape (WAR), the Thembekile Mandela Foundation that assists rural girls who are not able to purchase sanitary pads, the non-profit organization, Amadea, that focuses on abandoned children and Hope Alive, a sustainable project that equips South African women with skills such as shoe-making and jewelry-making to help them become self-sufficient.
I asked Anneke Clarke how significant is this charitable work by the diplomatic spouses in modern diplomacy in South Africa: “IDSA puts a human face to diplomacy in that we are able to connect with and work with ordinary South Africans who might not have been able to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds and countries. At the same time, the need for our charitable activities is great and so we are always seeking ways to enhance our impact by making sure we reach those who really need our help.”
And what has been the response of the ordinary South African to the Jamaican in the mix: “South Africans are fascinated with Jamaica and Jamaicans. I have always experienced a natural warmth especially by those who point to the role that Jamaica played in ending apartheid. They know of our artistes, they know Jamaican music, and they always mention Jerk”.
She goes on to say that “the constant interaction facilitates the sharing of information about Jamaica which leads to a deeper understanding of the country, which can only help to enhance Jamaica’s soft power.”
Yet Anneke Clarke is more than a diplomatic spouse. She holds a Masters Degree in Public Policy and Administration from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and has served as public relations director with the Jamaica Customs Department, communications specialist with former parliamentarian and foreign affairs minister, KD Knight, communications director at the UK non-profit, Electrical Safety Council and a consultant at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), South Africa.
For Anneke, being a member of IDSA has been an enriching experience “especially when you receive feedback from the people whose lives have been touched by IDSA.
But beyond politics, there is a personal reward – the lasting bonds of friendship and exchange among spouses who so happen to be experiencing South Africa together, and learning about each other’s nations.
Hume Johnson is Chairperson of the nation brand think tank, The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project.