US President Donald Trump has nominated a South Florida-based luxury fashion and handbag designer to be the new US ambassador to South Africa.
The White House announced the nomination of native South African Lana Marks late Wednesday.
Marks was born and raised in South Africa and is now the CEO of the Lana Marks Collections design firm, which caters to celebrities. She speaks Xhosa and Afrikaans and lives in Palm Beach, Florida.
Marks, who was born Lana Banks, grew up in the city of Port Elizabeth, where here family were prominent members of the city’s Jewish community. Longtime Port Elizabeth resident Louis Robinson told the South African Jewish Report last month that the family were socialites, known for having their own movie theater in their home.
There has been no US ambassador to South Africa since Trump’s election. The extended vacancy had led to criticism that the Trump administration was less committed to the US-South Africa relationship than previous ones.
Ambassadorial candidates from the private sector are not uncommon for the US government and account for about 30 percent of envoys across administrations.
Relations between South Africa and the US were tested this year after Trump said white farmers were being forced off their land and many of them killed.
The US president was accused of telling untruths and fueling racial tensions. White ownership of most of the farmland in South Africa is one of the most sensitive issues in the country’s post-apartheid era.
South Africa accused him of making “alarmist” and “misinformed” comments.
Marks, who reportedly has no diplomatic experience, is also a member of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
The last US ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, is a member of the Democratic Party and since leaving the diplomatic service has been a harsh critic of Trump.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is pushing for radical land redistribution to tackle inequality, this month said he sat next to Trump at a UN lunch and exchanged pleasantries.
Ramaphosa, who faces elections in 2019, has said expropriating farms without compensating their owners would “undo a grave historical injustice” against the black majority.